Taken was and remains a lurid piece of commercial filmmaking. Among action movies it occupies the lower rungs, but on a draggy afternoon it’s a watchable diversion. While the characters, including the lead, are total stiffs, and it’s not exactly fun or energizing to watch a stone-faced Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, The Phantom Menace) dispatch the greasy, scruffy Albanians who sell girls into sexual slavery, there's a visceral charge to the premise of a pissed-off parent taking revenge against those who messed with his brood.
Which is more than can be said for Taken 2, an uninspired rehash that reunites nearly all the principals from the first go-round, including the same writing team. The tedious car chases, shootouts and hand-to-hand combat are all dutifully on display. So are the underwritten characters, drab scenery and pervasive stupidity — except they've been amplified.
Taken 2 gets to the point from the get-go: the father of the “Good Luck” guy from the first film, whom Neeson’s CIA agent Bryan Mills offed with some home-style electrocution, wants his revenge. As in “throats cut and blood spilled over their graves” revenge. The grieving father in this case is played by character actor Rade Serbedzija (Snatch, Mission: Impossible 2), looking distractingly like The Most Interesting Man in the World on a yearlong bender. After squeezing the French agent who reluctantly helped Mills in the first film, and then paying off some unidentified official, the bloodthirsty father and his clan soon know his exact whereabouts.
As luck would have it, they get a three-for-one deal, as Mills is joined by ex-wife Lenore — currently going through a convenient separation — and daughter Kim in Istanbul for some R&R. It’s just a couple of brief, pointless scenes before Mills and Lenore are taken, but not before the kidnappers inexplicably allow Mills to stay on his cell phone with his daughter and tell her exactly what he wants her to do to stay safe. While in captivity, Mills will help Kim pinpoint his location by talking her through a math problem that requires her to toss grenades around the rooftops of Istanbul.
Neeson’s character isn’t unlikeable, but he’s hardly a warm presence. I’m not sure what the filmmakers think they’re accomplishing by making Mills so anal-retentive that he prefers to wipe down his own car while at the full-service car wash. Or that he sits in his polished ride and only exits at precisely 2 p.m. when it’s time for him to spend time with the kid. OCD isn't such a charming trait when you're a stone-cold killer.
He’s also a full-on creeper — stalking Kim via her GPS-enabled smart phone. You wonder why the guy needs to bring a small arsenal with him to Istanbul when he’s on security duty, and then you realize the screws are just a little too tight upstairs. During the pre- and post-kidnapping scenes, when Mills is shown hanging out with his buddies during a cookout or inviting the fam to see the sights, he looks like a man trying to relax and have a normal conversation but can’t pull it off.
Screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen are behind a string of trashy French films designed to travel as international hits: Kiss of the Dragon, The Transporter series and last year’s Colombiana among them. Each are of a piece in that they reflect the same dogged determination to create utterly joyless, nasty, decadent little films that aspire to be blockbusters. Sometimes they succeed, but I wouldn’t bank on Taken 3 if this film gets the response it deserves.