"Taken 2" is pretty much the direct opposite of everything that was right about the first film. Let's do a quick recap. The original "Taken" came out of nowhere to become a sleeper hit. No one expected it to connect with audiences the way it did. But moviegoers were craving a solid, meat-and-potatoes thriller with no fancy digital effects or 3D gee-whizzery. It had a tight, tense plot in which Liam Neeson played a former CIA operative who slaughtered his way through Paris after his daughter was kidnapped and sold into a white slavery prostitution ring. At a budget of $25 million, it relied on its simple premise; its well-constructed, quotable script; and its charismatic lead.
By contrast, expectations are high for the sequel and the budget looks to be triple the first one. Unfortunately, it's not tight. It's not tense. There are no quotable lines. The car chases, foot chases, and one-on-one fight sequences are bigger and grander. But you've seen them done in a hundred other movies and TV shows. It is a wholly uninspired effort that I find myself having to write the review for as soon as possible before it evaporates in my brain.
It's really too bad, because the premise of the movie is solid. All the men Bryan Mills killed in the first film? Well, they all had fathers and brothers and best friends. And they all want Bryan's head. They get their chance when Mills travels for a work assignment to Istanbul, a city that seems to have a working infrastructure of hot and cold running Turkish gangsters. Even better, he has his newly separated ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), and daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) in tow. So immediately, the head gangster, Murad (Rade Serbedzija), dreams of killing Lenore slowly, Bryan even more slowly, and finally getting that Kim back into his white slavery prostitution ring.
He and his crew end up kidnapping Bryan and Lenore, but they miss Kim. And it's Bryan's little girl who comes to the rescue, setting off grenades all around Istanbul, running along rooftops, and driving a getaway car like she's Danica Patrick (the film's lone running joke is that she has failed her driver's test back in the States). She rescues Mills, but mom is still out there and Bryan sighs, picks up his gun, and goes off to shoot many Turks.
And that's pretty much the film. There is an overwhelming lack of urgency running throughout. You never once feel like Bryan and his family are in any real jeopardy, because the filmmakers this time out go completely soft on the villainy. Director Olivier Megaton (yup, that's his name) and screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen seem wholly unwilling to put their characters in any real jeopardy. When the bad guys nab Bryan, they don't strip him of his possessions, surround him with a half-dozen bloodthirsty henchmen, torture him for kicks, and then line up with rifles. They leave him handcuffed alone in a room for an inordinate amount of time with a wristwatch and a phone in his sock that he is easily able to retrieve, call his daughter, and give her detailed instructions.
The villain then comes into the room, threatens him, slaps him across the face, inflicts a small cut on the wife's neck, hangs her upside down to slowly bleed to death, then LEAVES to get into a car and go somewhere else!!! How Bryan gets out his handcuffs is one of the stupidest things I've ever seen in a movie. It can't possibly work. Not in the amount of time he has. And, meanwhile, you have Kim out there alternating between traumatized ditz and capable rescuer.
A car chase a few scenes later is just ludicrous with an ending in which Kim crashes a taxicab through a U.S. embassy checkpoint guarded for once by an entire platoon of Marines who would surely Swiss-cheese her and her dad with bullets having no clue who they are at that point. Then, Bryan has to go back and rescue the ex-Mrs. in a series of small action clips in which the only way he is able to get close to the woman is because every single guard and henchman that Murad employs is a complete idiot who spends his time not actually paying attention that the guy who killed everyone in the first flick is still loose. No, instead, they're but watching soccer games on the TV, taking smoke breaks, or just snoozing.
The film is utterly ridiculous. And Megaton does us no favors with his awful, shaky-cam, quick edit action scenes that rob the fights and shootouts of any tension. A final standoff between Bryan and Murad's chief torturer has all of the grace and choreography of a hit batter charging the mound. Ugh. I rate "Taken 2" a 3 out of 10. (T. Durgin)