“Taken,” the enormously successful 2008 thriller in which a retired agent gets his kidnapped teenage daughter back, was an explosion of middle-age machismo. Seeing Liam Neeson dish out some skull-cracking, back-snapping payback to every young thug in Paris proved to be a rollicking good time.
Now there’s “Taken 2,” which has the requisite abductions, speeding cars and Americans in danger on foreign soil, but the only ones truly taken for a ride are those in the audience. All that’s missing in this blatant money grab is a final shot of Neeson on a spending spree with his presumably large check.
Neeson returns as Bryan Mills, the ex-CIA operative living in Los Angeles where he hovers over his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), even though he no longer lives with her or her mother, Lenore (Famke Janssen). But things seem to be reheating between Bryan and Lenore and he plans to spend more time with his family when he returns from a three-day freelance security assignment in Istanbul.
Before you can say “bad idea,” mother and daughter decide to surprise Bryan in Turkey just as he’s ready to head home. Little do they know that Albanian crime boss Murad (the perpetually scowling Rade Serbedzija of “X-Men First Class”) is still ticked off that Bryan killed his son, who was one of Kim’s kidnappers. He vows revenge in Istanbul, unleashing a squad of tough guys to capture Bryan and his family.
While the original was predictable and hardly more believable, it got by on a propulsive energy from director Pierre Morel and a sense of surprise. This time out, fellow Frenchman Olivier Megaton (“Colombiana,” “Transporter 3”), working from a script by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen (both of whom wrote the first “Taken”), turns out a lethargic retread. Even the fight scenes are clumsily shot, making it hard to follow what’s happening.
Granted, there are things that have to be taken on faith in a movie like this (why are all the bad guys such bad shots?) but there are some head scratchers here too big to ignore. Why wouldn’t at least one of Murad’s many goons stand watch over a chained-up Bryan instead of giving him enough alone time to figure a way out and communicate with his daughter? How is it that Kim, who was just starting to take driving lessons at the start of the film, is able to maneuver a careening Mercedes through the byzantine streets of Istanbul like a stunt driver – under a hail of bullets no less – and not kill half the city or, at least, herself?
To add musical insult to cinematic injury, the film ends with one of the most overplayed songs of the year, Alex Clare’s “Too Close,” over the credits. But that really shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s of a piece with everything else in this strikingly unoriginal film.