October 06, 2012

Taken 2

starstar

A movie review by James Berardinelli



Taken 2

ACTION/THRILLER:

France, 2012

U.S. Release Date:

2012-10-05

Running Length:

1:30

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Serbedzija

Director:

Olivier Megaton

Screenplay:

Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen

Cinematography:

Romain Lacourbas

Music:

Nathaniel Mechaly

U.S. Distributor:

20th Century Fox

Subtitles:

none


The original Taken, released in the United States in early 2009, was never intended to be anything more than a January throw-away. $145 million later, Fox had a different opinion of the French-made film, whose U.S. opening occurred months after it had bowed in Europe. Taken 2, one of those sequels that exists purely because its predecessor made money, received A-list treatment. Pretty much everyone returned with enhanced pay checks. The one exception, director Pierre Morel, was replaced by Olivier Megaton who, like Morel, has a long-term relationship with producer/co-writer Luc Besson (the French Jerry Bruckheimer). Taken 2 was given a more prestigious October release date and North American viewers were not left waiting around for months to experience Liam Neeson's latest adventures in ass kicking.

Taken 2 is more of the same, except a little bigger, a little dumber, and a little less invigorating. If Neeson seemed to be going through the motions in Taken, that's doubly the case here, where it's apparent from body language and facial expressions that he'd rather be anywhere else. But, hey, he could always be sitting behind a desk instead of getting a free vacation to Turkey. Neeson's recent resume reminds me of Gene Hackman's in the '80s and '90s, when he accepted nearly every role presented to him. Although Hackman is rightly remembered as a good actor, he appeared in a lot of schlock. But, because bad movies often pay well for the participation of respected talent, he reaped the benefits and has been able to enjoy a long and comfortable retirement. Neeson's trajectory appears similar and, when his career is over, Taken 2 will be nothing more than a footnote.

The action in Taken 2 isn't exactly James Bond or Jason Bourne intense. Even Dr. No was more extreme. This offers little more than a guy running around shooting people with the occasional fist fight or car chase thrown in for variety. Standard stuff that's executed competently but with little flair. The first Taken was more energetic; this one seems obligatory in every detail. The villain is second-rate and too old for the final confrontation to be physical. Previously, we had a detestable bad guy who made his fortune kidnapping girls and selling them as sex slaves. Now, it's his father, Murad Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija), who's out for revenge. His opportunity comes when ex-CIA super agent Bryan Mills (Neeson) is on vacation in Istanbul with his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), and his 17-year old daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace, who just turned 29). Krasniqi's thugs chase and capture Bryan and Lenore while hunting Kim. There's a little PG-13 torture before Bryan turns the tables on his kidnappers and starts whittling down Krasniqi's seemingly endless army of henchmen. Neeson's expression never wavers. Maybe he's calculating how many more Takens he'll have to make before being able to follow Hackman into a life of leisure.

Those looking for new or original material can give this movie a pass (not that anything along those lines should have been expected in the first place), although it is the first film I can recall that has a car chase featuring a back-seat driver. "Go back!", "Go forward!", "Left!", "Right!", "Stop!", "Faster!" It's pretty funny, actually. You have to feel sorry for Kim who, despite having failed her driver's test, is being forced to speed through the winding streets of Istanbul as her father leans out the window and takes shots at a pursuing vehicle while issuing terse driving instructions. It's unclear whether this humor is intentional, but it's there.

Those who enjoyed the first Taken will probably not be greatly disappointed by this one, although it would be cheaper and more satisfying to stay home and re-watch the 2008 feature rather than paying money for a ticket to what amounts to a re-hash. Too many sequels are like this, existing for no reason beyond their potential to fatten the coffers of everyone on the movie gravy train. It's easy to be cynical about them; what they offer is basic and creatively dead. Audiences appreciate them because they're familiar and demand little in the way of attentiveness. One can send a few text messages, surf the web a little, visit the concession stand, and not miss a damn thing.

Luc Besson has often stated that his goal is to make European films that look and feel like Hollywood ones. When it comes to soulless, derivative sequels, he has achieved his aim. Taken 2 is Exhibit A.

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