Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Taken 2" (2012)

Starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen
Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen
Directed by Olivier Megaton
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language
Running Time: 91 Minutes

After the events in Paris, Brian Mills (Liam Neeson) and his family have settled into a new routine. Brian is teaching his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) to drive while ex-wife Lennie (Famke Janssen) suffers from her collapsing second marriage.  Meanwhile, in Albania, Murad (Rade Serbedzija), father of the man who kidnapped Kim in the first film, vows revenge against Mills and his entire family.

Brian soon arrives in Istanbul for a job, where Murad's men are waiting for him. Worse, Kim and Lennie make a surprise appearance to spend vacation with Brian, and Murad's men make their move. Brian and Lennie are taken by Murad's men, but Kim manages to escape and then free her father. Now Brian will once again use his "particular set of skills" to take down Murad's men and rescue his ex-wife.

"Taken" was a surprise hit, igniting the box office (and internet memes) and thrusting Liam Neeson into the spotlight as another badass but aging action star. It was inevitable then that a sequel would follow, and in 2012, we got "Taken 2," an action film as uninspired as its title.

At only 91 minutes, "Taken 2" feels like it takes forever to get going. I could probably forgive a slow start if the back half of the movie had managed to grip me the way the first film did. Instead, we get to see a lot of fairly standard fist-fights and gunplay. What made the original film so entertaining was the way its over-the-top violence came pretty much by surprise. But nothing in "Taken 2" is surprising. It feels like a paint-by-numbers sequel through and through.

Once the violence in the film does start, none of it is all that energizing. The fights are masked by fast editing and shaky camera work that rob them of any real impact, and the choreography gets repetitive. The final fight between Brian and Murad's lead henchman goes on too long, whereas the original film knew that the shortest route to victory was the way to go. In that film, Brian is an unstoppable force that we root for every time he does something clever or badass.  But here, he seems to have lost that fire. If we're going to have a repetitive sequel, where's the outrageous torture scene? Where's Brian unloading an entire clip into the body of an enemy in full view of his party guests?  Here, we just see Brian beating up a bunch of henchmen in alleyways.

Probably the only time we see something that reminded me of the coolness of the original is when Brian shoots a henchman through a wall at the climax. An earlier sequence where he tells Kim to set off a series of explosions around Istanbul in order to pinpoint his location almost qualifies, but the fact that a white American teenager runs around a foreign city throwing grenades without running afoul of the authorities ruins the whole thing.

Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen get expanded roles this time, but only Grace gets anything worthwhile to do. In fact, that Kim is the one who rescues her father initially is probably the only really smart thing "Taken 2" does. It's a solid acknowledgement of character development for her, so it's too bad the rest of the film saddles her with subplots involving getting her driver's license and hiding the fact that she's got a boyfriend from her father. Those subplots lead into another issue: exactly how old is Kim supposed to be, but she doesn't have a driver's license? Maggie Grace is 30 years old.

If you're a huge fan of the original, maybe you want to see "Taken 2." You might like it. On the other hand, if you were a huge fan... you might not want to. It felt like everything that made "Taken" awesome was missing here.