OK, you saw that movie TAKEN, right? The one where Liam Neeson's daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) gets kidnapped in Paris and sold into sex slavery, and he (playing Bryan Mills, a retired CIA agent and private security dude) uses his "particular set of skills" to retrieve her in record time. Good. Well, TAKEN 2 is basically that, but it's his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) that gets kidnapped by the friends and family of the people he killed in the first movie. And I'm not saying it's not fun; there just isn't an ounce of surprise or unpredictability in the whole movie, and maybe you'll be OK with that. I'm a little less OK with it, but I always have such a fun time watching Liam Neeson kick ass, I'm not complaining that much.
Bryan and Lenore are still divorced when things begin, but the writing is on the wall that her new marriage in on the rocks, and there's Bryan being the perfect dad to Kim and friend to the ex. He can barely contain his glee when he catches wind of Lenore's marital distress. But Bryan is almost too distracted to notice because Kim has blown off a driving lesson he's supposed to give her before her third attempt at getting her license. He soon discovers through some clever spy-type detective work that she has a serious boyfriend (Luke Grimes), and he busts up their little make-out session right quick.
In case you hasn't guessed, all of this family business is supposed to pass as character development when in fact it's one cliche piled upon another, and it's oppressively dull. But before long, Bryan is off on a business trip to Istambul, where Kim and Lenore surprise him. It just so happens that people connected with Kim's kidnappers spot Bryan, and an Eastern European crime boss (the great Rade Serbedzija) whose son was one of the kidnappers puts out an order to capture Bryan and his family. Then the movie goes into overdrive with the shooting, chasing, running, exploding, screaming, more chasing, crashing, bombing, sneaking, climbing, driving, beating, additional chasing, torturing, bleeding, molesting, punching, grimacing, and there might be some chasing as well.
Director Olivier Megaton (TRANSPORTER 3, COLOMBIANA but not the first TAKEN film) certainly has a distinct and relentless way of shooting action, and even with a PG-13 rating (like its predecessor), some of the killing is fairly brutal. What's missing is Bryan's sense of being willing to take out his anger and desperation on innocent bystanders the way he did in the first film. What works more than I thought it would is that he enlists Kim to help in search for Lenore. As with the original, the screenplay is co-written by Luc Besson, whose talents as a writer seem to thinking up creative ways for action, death, and injury to occur. Most of his written works feel a bit thin in the character development side (or as far as plot goes, for that matter), and TAKEN 2 is no different.
The film's saving grace is, of course, Neeson, whose dependability even in the most outrageous movies is fast becoming the stuff of legend. Although there's no getting around the fact that after seeing his fine work in THE GREY, TAKEN 2 feels like a step back. The first TAKEN was such a massive hit worldwide (and a solid film on top) that there was no way the sequel wasn't going to happen. Still, I wish they'd spent five minutes turning it into something that feels less like padding and more like a story where death means something and we care enough for these characters that I'd actually be troubled if one of them died or was hurt. Alas, welcome to the decidedly mediocre world of sequels.