(Photo: Magali Bragard, 20th Century Fox)
From title to catch phrases, Taken 2 (* * 1/2 stars out of
four) makes no bones about being a follow-up to the 2008 French thriller
that made Liam Neeson our favorite middle-aged action hero.
And for about half of this sequel, the approach works just fine. At times, Taken 2
even steps from the shadows of the original with some terrifying
imagery and an improved relationship between father and daughter.
Alas, the movie can't help but descend into a pat part two, bereft of much suspense or tension.
It's not enough to undermine Taken 2
as a serviceable action flick, thanks to Neeson's utter believability
as a divorced dad trying to stay pertinent in his child's life. But what
a sequel it could have been.
Neeson reprises his role as retired
CIA operative Bryan Mills, a guy who could kill a man with a ballpoint
pen but can't watch his little girl grow up.
Neeson shines in
scenes as an agent unable to shake his methodical ways. He's still
to-the-minute punctual and a bloodhound at heart. But his unshaven face
and puffy eyes belie a tired spy, and help make Mills painfully
starts with a simple, chilling premise: the legion of men Mills left
dead four years ago had fathers, sons and brothers. And they want
Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen (who teamed
to write the first film), the intro bristles thanks to Rade Serbedzija,
who plays Albanian crime lord Murad Krasniqi. He's got the sneer and
scowl of a garden-variety Hollywood villain, but he's also got a secret
weapon: real motive. His speech at the burial of his son is enough to
suggest our operative is in real trouble.
But then director Olivier Megaton (Columbiana)
makes an odd call. A security job sends Mills to Istanbul, where the
film makes a hokey excuse to bring along Mills' daughter Kim (Maggie
Grace) and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), both still traumatized by
Kim's abduction four years ago. Why not have these killers descend on
Mills and his family at home, a much more menacing proposition than
meeting them halfway across the globe?
Of course, then you
wouldn't have an excuse for the picturesque rooftop chase scenes, of
which this film has too many. And police in Europe don't seem to show up
for explosions and gun battles like they do in the United States.
The cliches ultimately overtake Taken 2. Mills' pining for his ex-wife borders on the preposterous, and the action scenes are cut so quick as to be hard to follow. Taken so desperately wants to be a Bourne-style franchise there's little doubt where the movie is headed.
Still, there's enough DNA from the original to keep Taken 2 afloat, and Neeson has become a thinking-man's action star. Taken 2 is a rehash of the original. Fortunately, they're leftovers from a fine first course.