TAKEN 2 (Olivier Megaton). 92 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (October 5). See listings. Rating: NN
European action czar Luc Besson never misses a chance to build a franchise. He's produced four Taxi films, three Transporters, two each in the District 13 and Crimson Rivers series.
Obviously, when his Liam Neeson action throwaway Taken turned into a sleeper smash back in 2009, a sequel was mandatory. For Taken 2, Besson and his regular co-writer Robert Mark Kamen have engineered a sequel based on an even simpler premise: this time it's personal.
It's a few weeks after the events of the first picture, though we're magically in 2012 - on the day the Costa Concordia ran aground on the Italian coast, to be precise - and compulsive security specialist Bryan Mills (Neeson) has invited his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and their daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) to join him in Istanbul to collectively decompress.
Unfortunately, the family members of the Albanian human traffickers Mills mowed down while rescuing Kim from a life of white slavery have organized a posse to avenge their loved ones, flipping the script by grabbing Mills and Lenore, forcing Kim to play hero and effect their rescue - or at least reunite Mills with his weapons cache, enabling another killing spree.
Director Olivier Megaton, who previously helmed Besson's Transporter 3 and Colombiana, makes Pierre Morel's work on the first Taken look subtle. Taken 2 is all jangled camerawork and fast cutting, which works against the pleasure of watching Neeson go all Jason Bourne on his enemies in close-quarter fight scenes. Megaton's not a particularly clever filmmaker, and can't bring anything new to a script that's composed mostly of generic chase scenes.
Taken 2 is also hampered by a creeping sense of its own pointlessness - and not just because Neeson looks tired and Grace is now more than a decade older than her teenage character. It's a movie out of time.
In January 2009, with Barack Obama's inauguration heralding a change of tone in America, the first film felt like the last gasp of the George W. Bush era - a decent, upstanding family man beating up swarthy foreigners to save his child, regardless of the larger consequences or political ramifications.
But the wind's changed, along with our collective idea of entertainment; all the Angry American posturing feels weirdly hollow and opportunistic now, especially when the plot requires Kim to run around the rooftops of Istanbul at her father's instruction, literally throwing grenades to get attention.
Later, when Mills crashes a stolen cab into the U.S. Embassy, the movie doesn't even stop to consider what that might look like from the perspective of the soldiers at the gates.
Obviously, Taken 2's target audience of yahoos who just want to see Neeson lay waste to an anonymous assortment of swarthy bad guys (led by a slumming Rade Serbedzija) don't care about that stuff.
But someone should.