By Brian Lafferty
Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox
October 5, 2012 (San Diego) -- Another week, another Liam Nelson film. Taken 2 is his fourth this year alone. First came The Grey, a gritty action survival film set in Alaska that packed a psychological punch. The second was the wretched Wrath of the Titans, which right now is my pick for the worst film of the year. Following that was Battleship, a stupid and turgid alien invasion flick that cribbed the worst elements of Michael Bay’s films. Taken 2 does nothing to better Neeson's batting average this year, but at least it's somewhat more tolerable than Wrath and Battleship. But that isn't saying much.
Taken 2 picks up where the first film - which I have never seen - left off. Former CIA operative Bryan Mills (Neeson) and his family go on vacation in Istanbul, Turkey. Unbeknownst to them is a plan formulated by the vengeful Murad Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija) to kidnap and kill the family in retaliation for Bryan killing the men (which included Murad’s son) who kidnapped his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace) in the first Taken. This time Bryan and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) are taken, and it's up to Kim to save the day.
Neeson, who usually boasts a commanding presence, looks tired and disinterested. His weary and routine delivery of his lines invite suspicion that he would have rather been doing something else instead of Taken 2. His performance contains the usual Liam Neeson gruffness audiences are accustomed to, but it’s far too low-key and pedestrian.
The villains are so simpleminded, I'm convinced the screenwriters were ordered to keep the story and character development to the barest of minimums. The villains are clichéd baddies who are so blind, deaf, and dumb to reason it’s astonishing. In one scene, Bryan tells Murad his son was responsible for selling innocent girls as sex slaves and kidnapped his daughter. Murad slaps him and says, “I don't care what he did." Really? It would have been one thing for him to say something like, “You’re lying,” if he really believed his son was innocent. His response is more than just outright ignorance: it’s a copout the same way a teenager says, “Whatever.”
This sadly is the rule, and not the exception, when it comes to the dialogue. The screenwriters (which include Luc Besson) make no effort to write imaginative, witty, or creative dialogue. Well, except in one brief exchange between Bryan and Kim, which turns out to be Taken 2’s only source or wit: "Can you shoot?" “No.” “Then drive." Haven't they learned anything from Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, and True Lies? That all action movies, even B-grade action films, require creative and smart dialogue to go along with the stunts? It doesn’t necessarily have to be funny or witty, but it should be memorable.
Lack of ambition doesn’t just plague the script. The fight scenes are basic fisticuff fare, mere punching, shooting, and kicking. You may argue, “It’s just an action film, I don’t care.” Go see The Raid: Redemption and get back to me. The screenwriters toss in a few cliché-riddled car chases to boot. There’s the constant crashing into things (including - gasp! - a food stand; at least they had the presence of mind to not make it a fruit cart), people shooting from the windows, and…well, seasoned action movie buffs can guess the rest.
The cutting is atrocious and borderline unprofessional. I have no quibble with the ultra-brief takes. It was the shot selection that almost made me groan in the theater. It’s as if every shot in the action scenes was chosen at random, without any regard for rhythm and perception. In the fight scenes, the camera jumps all over the place, causing far more confusion than excitement. Even worse, the filmmakers make the mistake of shooting a vital car chase sequence with no clear establishing shot. This means not only having to contend with impatient and random cutting, but also trying to decipher where Bryan and Kim are in relation to the bad guys and the police cars.
I did find the story barely – and I do mean barely – engaging enough to keep me interested. Ultimately, Taken 2 is an unnecessary film. There are only four reasons it was green-lit: 1) It's a Luc Besson production, 2) It's a sequel, 3) It stars Liam Neeson, and 4) People are willing to fork over money to see it.
Taken 2 is now playing in wide release.
A 20th Century Fox release. Director: Olivier Megaton. Screenplay: Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. Original Music: Nathaniel Mechaly, Cinematography: Romain Lacourbas. Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, D.B. Sweeney, Luke Grimes, and Rade Serbedzija. Running time: 91 minutes. Rated PG-13.