There’s a small Albanian village missing a few thugs in “Taken 2.” Before the credits roll said village will be out many more.
The 2008 original turned Liam Neeson from a cagey actor to a middle-aged action hero. The sequel leans hard on everything that made the first film connect. Put those elements into the Sequel Mixer, and you get a louder, dumber experience that still delivers a visceral upper cut.
Former CIA agent Bryan Mills (Neeson) spends his days stalking the boyfriend of his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace). He’s still on good terms with his ex (Famke Janssen), and the horrors from the first film appear to be behind them.
Tell that to Murad Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija), the father of one of the men Bryan took out while saving his kidnapped daughter last time ’round. Murad rallies some goons to capture not just Bryan, but his ex-wife and Kim – again. It’ll take all of Bryan’s spy skills, which range from pretty cool to forehead smackingly silly, to extricate his loved ones from harm and up the movie’s body count substantially.
That’s what Bryan does best, to paraphrase the man himself.
“Taken 2” starts with some family bonding, the kind of fast-forward on DVD moments salvaged by the ultra-competent cast. Neeson’s Bryan sacrificed his family for his job, and now he’s like puppy dog trying to lick away the emotional wounds. Yeah, as if Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger could pull off such an acting stunt.
Once the baddies enter the frame, the “Taken” formula slips into gear.
“Listen carefully,” Neeson growls before spouting a serious of intricate demands that really require a scratch pad and a ball point pen.
It’s here where the franchise’s potential seems oh, so limited. Yes, Neeson may go on to lens a series of older dudes who kicks arse features, but the nuts and bolts of the “Taken” template will grow silly should they continue.
Director Olivier Megaton (coolest … name … ever) takes a dual approach to the action sequences. Some moments favor the jerky cam stylings that make one’s teeth hurt, while other moments let Neeson’s lanky frame handle the heavy lifting. Naturally, the latter scenes pop, with Bryan’s fighting style unlike most action hero maneuvers.
We’ll swallow plenty of Bryan’s spy game trickery, like how he figures out where he is taken by the kidnappers as well as the route along the way. But watching him guide his speeding car into an armed to the teeth embassy is just plain dopey. So is having Kim, who hasn’t earned her driver’s license yet, behind the wheel for that sequence.
Modern action movies routinely mock our logic circuits. “Fast and Furious” would have stopped at the first sequel without such mental torture.
Neeson makes “Taken 2” matter, shouldering past the standard sequel complaints and the cold fear that we should be seeing the last of the intrepid Bryan Mills.