Taken, the enormously successful 2008 thriller in which a retired agent gets his kidnapped teenage daughter back, was an explosion of middle-age machismo. Seeing Liam Neeson dish out some skull-cracking, neck-snapping payback to every young thug in Paris proved to be a rollicking good time.
Now there's Taken 2, which has the requisite abductions, speeding cars and Americans in danger on foreign soil, but the only ones truly taken for a ride here are those of us in the audience. All that's missing in this blatant money grab is a final shot of Neeson on a spending spree with his presumably large check.
Neeson returns as Bryan Mills, the ex-CIA guy living in Los Angeles where he hovers over his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), even though he no longer lives with her or her mother, Lenore (Famke Janssen). But things seem to be reheating between Bryan and Lenore, and he plans to spend more time with his family when he returns from a three-day freelance security assignment in Istanbul.
But, before you can say "bad idea," mother and daughter decide to surprise Bryan in Turkey just as he's ready to head home. Little do they know that Albanian crime boss Murad (the perpetually scowling Rade Serbedzija, X-Men: First Class) is still ticked off that Bryan killed his son, who was one of Kim's kidnappers. He vows revenge in Istanbul, this time grabbing Bryan and Lenore.
While the original was hardly more believable, it got by on a propulsive energy from director Pierre Morel and a sense of surprise. This time out, fellow Frenchman Olivier Megaton (Colombiana, Transporter 3), working from a script by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen (both of whom wrote the first Taken), turns out a lethargic retread. Even the fight scenes are clumsily shot, making it hard to follow what's happening.
There are things in a movie like this that have to be taken on faith (all the bad guys are really bad shots), but there are some head scratchers here that are too big to ignore. Why wouldn't one of Murad's many goons have someone watch over a chained-up Bryan instead of giving him enough alone time to figure a way out and communicate with his daughter? And how is it that Kim, who just started taking driving lessons at the start of the film, is able to maneuver a careening Mercedes through the byzantine streets of Istanbul like a stunt driver -- under a hail of bullets, no less?
To add musical insult to cinematic injury, the film ends with one of the most overplayed songs of the year, Alex Clare's Too Close, over the credits. But that really shouldn't come as a surprise. It's of a piece with everything else in this strikingly unoriginal film.
Cary Darling, 817-390-7571