(by Dustin Putman
A surprise sleeper smash at the time of its release, 2009's efficient little thriller "Taken" was squarely responsible for turning longtime critical darling Liam Neeson into not only a box-office draw, but also an unlikely but fully plausible action star. Since then, he's gone on to headline a number of studio features - 2011's "Unknown" and 2012's "The Grey," for starters - something that might have seemed unlikely just a few years earlier. Not bad for an actor who just celebrated his sixtieth birthday. The very idea that there's a "Taken 2" almost sounds like a joke; it's safe to say a sequel was on no one's mind when the original was being made. Nevertheless, here it is in all its preposterous glory, with Olivier Megaton (2008's "Transporter 3") taking over the director's chair from Pierre Morel and Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen penning the zonky screenplay. "Taken 2" has a go-for-broke attitude that is very much of the more-of-the-same variety, but on top of that the film tosses all signs of legitimacy to the wind in exchange for the kind of pleasingly moronic diversion that creates just as many titters and giggles as it does suspense. How much of the humor is intentional is up to each viewer to decide. Article continues below
Picking up shortly following the events of its predecessor, which saw ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) traveling to Europe to go after the human trafficking abductors of his 17-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), all involved are still trying to move on with their lives. While Kim has begun dating while putting off her driver's test (she's failed twice), Bryan has begun to mend the broken relationship he had with ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), whose current marriage appears to be on the rocks. When Lenore's and Kim's spring break trip to China falls through, Bryan invites them to join him in Istanbul, where his latest job as a security guard has placed him. They happily take him up on the offer, only to be suddenly accosted by Murad Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija), out to make Bryan pay for the murder of his son - one of the men initially responsible for kidnapping Kim. Though he and Lenore are ultimately captured and held hostage at an unknown location, Bryan manages to reach Kim by phone. Listening closely to his instructions, she sets out to locate her parents' whereabouts and save them before it's too late.
If the overpronounced violin strings on the music score are any indication, "Taken 2" doesn't appear to be aiming for laughter as a widespread audience response. At the same time, the film plays perilously close to a spoof of the original "Taken" from the very beginning, with one-sided bad guy Murad Krasniqi melodramatically vowing, "We will have our revenge," at the funeral of his murdered criminal son. Following a brief reintroduction of the protagonists - namely, Bryan, daughter Kim, and ex-wife Lenore - the setting shifts to Istanbul and all hell breaks loose, signifying that this family ought to take Stateside vacations from here on out. Realizing that they are being followed, Bryan proceeds to give Lenore lengthy, increasingly ludicrous directions that go on for days ("Get out of the car, walk to the back of the store, turn left, at the end of the alley turn right, walk up the stairs, then turn left, followed by another right..."). Once captured but miraculously carrying a second cell phone in his pants leg, a shackled Bryan calls up Kim, who is back at the hotel and in immediate danger. Not about to give up and seek safety at the U.S. Embassy, she convinces her dad to guide her as she attempts to find and rescue them. What follows has to be seen to be believed, leading to scenes where Kim is seen racing across rooftops and tossing grenades as a way for Bryan to be able to tell how close she is to finding them.
Not about to sit by idly, Bryan eventually gets back in on the action, breaking free and setting out to make his kidnappers pay. Liam Neeson is focused and straight-faced and in control as he once again kicks some major butt and doesn't bother to take names. He also has time to try to logically reason with Murad, which he should know isn't going to work. Not merely the victim this time, Maggie Grace (2012's "Lockout") plays Kim as frightened but resilient, a young woman still struggling to find herself while going through a cathartic experience that just might be the key to getting over the trauma that she experienced in the earlier movie. The same cannot be said for Famke Janssen (2008's "The Wackness"), who has softened Lenore from her brittle former reading of the character - one supposes your ex-husband going to all lengths to save your daughter will do that to a person - but nevertheless is mostly asked to groggily be dragged around and handcuffed to things.
"Taken 2" culminates in a car chase that will ensure Kim will pass her driving test with flying colors once she gets back home, and this and much of the rest of the film are at least good for a few thrills and some well-choreographed action. The PG-13 rating censors how far director Olivier Megaton can go, but he and cinematographer Romain Lacourbas (2011's "Colombiana") shoot it in a taut and cohesive way. A moment's thought, however, is more than enough time to recognize how very silly "Taken 2" is, going well beyond far-fetched and into a realm of near surrealism. Basically a loose, lesser remake of its predecessor, there is the cloying sense that what is being watched is extraneous and unnecessary - and really, really loopy.