REVIEW: Kitschy Taken 2 Ups The Xenophobia With Subpar Bad Dad Fantasy
Taken 2 grabs everything that was surprisingly enjoyable about the original film and batters it into the ground like... Liam Neeson beating up an Albanian human trafficking ring. The brute charm that the 2008 Taken found in portraying the Irish Oscar-nominee as an ultra-competent badass has withered to kitsch, and what's left is tinged with even more xenophobia and weird paternal wish-fulfillment. Worse, the directing reins have been handed from greater Luc Besson protégé Pierre Morel to the lesser (but, granted, more awesomely named) Olivier Megaton, of Transporter 3 and Columbiana, and he slashes the action sequences to such incoherent bits that half the fights could have been shot on a sound stage thousands of miles from any star and chopped in after the fact. Why are we watching this again?
Ah, yes, novelty. It is still a kick, though with rapidly diminishing returns, to see Neeson as the tersely tough CIA operative turned security contractor Bryan Mills. Bryan's relentless when it comes to destroying bad guys but pure pudding when it comes his apparently still teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, who at 29 isn't entirely believable as a kid still working on getting her drivers license) and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen). Bryan isn't fazed by the prospect of facing down a gang of Balkan toughs, but learning that his little girl has a boyfriend and didn't tell him about it leaves him stricken.
Lenore and the man she remarried are separated, and Bryan gallantly offers to fly her and their daughter to Istanbul, where he'll meet them after completing a short job, unknowingly making them all targets for the relatives of the men he killed in the last movie, led by Murad Krasniqi (Croatian Serb actor Rade Serbedzija, the go-to choice for playing sinister Eastern Europeans). Whatever the structure of this criminal ring, it's a family business and they have great contacts, seeing as members of the local police force and staffers at the luxury hotel at which Bryan and his family are staying are in the mafiosos' pockets. When the Albanians come to take our not-so-helpless Americans — twist! — it's Bryan and Lenore who end up getting captured, with the former growling his "Listen to me carefully" instructions to Kim as she attempts to come to her parents' rescue.
Taken 2 is dumb and as discardable as a box of cheap tourist trinkets, and its fights go so disappointingly easy the film's end arrives almost arbitrarily. Like its predecessor, it's also colored with some ugly American panic — ironic, given the international cast and crew involved in making it. The world abroad is filled with foreigners who can't wait to grab your virginal blonde daughters or take unwarranted revenge for what was an elaborately violent but, you know, totally justifiable act of familial defense.
Even before Bryan cottons to the fact that people are out to get them, he sternly forbids his daughter from wandering out of the hotel while he and Lenore take a private car to the market for lunch. Later, Bryan has Kim set off grenades in the middle of the city in order to use the sound to figure out how far she is from where he's being held. If you're visiting a foreign city, it's best to have as little contact with it as possible — but committing acts of sizable destruction is apparently fine in service of your fellow travelers.
Taken 2, which packs in an improbable car chase through the narrow streets of an old neighborhood and a oddly anticlimactic fist fight sequence in a Turkish bath, is ultimately a simplistic bad dad fantasy about a guy getting to righteously defend his family against the masses who are eager to do them harm. Bryan may have let his old job take him away from his wife and daughter, but now he gets to make up for being an absentee father by defending them against all comers, guns a-blazing. Unruffled and an expert on everything, he guides the grateful, whimpering women in his life to safety and in exchange gets to lecture the tribal head of the gangsters about how he needs to just accept the fact that the son is dead and deserved his fate. The film doesn't make too much of the detail that Murad and his men are Muslim, but does suggest, in moments like the one just described, that there's no reasoning with them.
Taken 2 has the unfortunate bad timing of choosing for its action movie explosion playground a country currently experiencing some serious real-world tensions with neighboring Syria. But its sense of Americans-in-a-foreign-land entitlement is nonspecific enough that this isn't particularly uncomfortable — it's so broad, in fact, that it approaches but never quite embraces self-parody. If this is what producer/writer Luc Besson thinks audiences are looking for these days, he has a low opinion of people indeed. God help us if he turns out to be right.