Review: “Taken 2”

Liam Neeson stars in Oliver Megaton's "Taken 2"“Taken 2” is one of those sequels built on the assumption that audiences want what they enjoyed the first time around — nothing more, perhaps a bit less. Based on that line of thinking, the film succeeds, albeit narrowly.

The first “Taken” saw Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills, an ex-C.I.A. agent with a savant-like competency at killing, go on a rampage in Paris to rescue his kidnapped teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from sex traffickers. Bryan’s one-man quest to save the girl resulted in, I dunno, a few dozen dead bodies, and doubtlessly ruined the European sex slave business for days, perhaps even weeks. Despite its absurdities, “Taken” turned out to be an excellent thriller, replete with harsh violence, fascinating spy-work, and strong political undertones. It was so effective that it not only cleaned up at the box office, but single-handedly initiated a late-career shift for Neeson from character actor to action star.

The fact that “Taken 2” predictably covers the same ground isn’t necessarily bad thing. If its predecessor had something to offer, this sequel does, too, even if it lacks the same levels of enthusiasm and freshness.

Whereas the original thrust Mills’ daughter into distress, this time it’s Mills and his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) who are captured in Istanbul. The culprits are the vengeance-seeking friends and relatives of the Albanian sex traffickers who Mills butchered in “Taken.” While the premise is quite thin, it proves to be one of the film’s greatest strengths, providing a clash between families infused with the unusual suggestion (for a Hollywood action movie, at least) that there can actually be serious consequences when an invincible secret agent begins exterminating those in his way.

Though the first “Taken” didn’t sport a plot anyone would characterize as believable, its chain of events had a methodical pacing and a sense of logic that legibly took Mills from a Parisian airport to the villain’s yacht. He’d examine evidence here, track down bad guys there, bust up a crooked bureaucrat somewhere else, and so forth. Here, the steps involved are consistently preposterous and come out of nowhere. For instance: Mills, captured and tied to a pipe, sneaks a phone and dials daughter Kim, whom he then instructs to map his location using only a shoelace, a marker, and a set of instructions that one might comprehend if they were a cartographer. Later, in a moment that brings to mind the parodic theatrics of “Team America: World Police,” Mills has Kim hurling live grenades all over Istanbul so that he can gauge her distance from him. After a car chase, Mills orders Kim to drive straight through a guard post and into the American embassy grounds, withering heavy machine-gun fire in the process.

Irrespective of their improbability, the above moments are quickly paced and approached with a tonal seriousness that succeeds in making them the sort of nonsense that the viewer enjoys in the moment and questions later. Writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen’s expository scenes of sentimental bonding between the Mills clan quickly give way to serious bloodletting, with much of the violence pushing the boundaries of the film’s PG-13 rating. The action, unmistakably a product of the Paul Greengrass school of shaky-cam and fast edits, is pieced together in snippets just long enough to allow the viewer a recognition of space and who’s killing whom how.

Certainly, “Taken 2” isn’t for everyone, but fans of the first entry and ridiculous action blockbusters in general are likely to enjoy the film. Those not in either group should know better than to attend. That’s perhaps the neatest thing about the film: everyone in and outside of it gets what they deserve.