Liam Neeson returns to the role of an ex-CIA operative with "a set of… (Magali Bragard / 20th Century…)
The original "Taken" may have earned an impressive $224 million-plus in worldwide box office receipts, but it apparently went unseen in one remote corner of Albania. That would be the home base of a group of men who, not knowing any better, feel compelled to menace Bryan Mills and his family one more time in "Taken 2." Talk about slow learners.
Led by taciturn Murad (grizzled veteran Rade Sherbedgia), these men are the blood relatives of the folks master of mayhem Bryan killed back in the day while rescuing his daughter Kim from the clutches of nefarious white slavers in Paris. "We will not rest until his blood flows into this ground," Murad says, helpfully speaking English at a picturesque Albanian cemetery. "We will have our revenge." Good luck with that, guys.
Because ex-CIA operative Bryan, played once again by Liam Neeson, is a virtuoso of violence who embraces murderous moves the way politicians take to verbal evasiveness. Bullets can't seem to find him, knives miss their marks, martial artists flail away in vain. When Bryan says he's going to do "what I do best," it's not macramé he's talking about.
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At a beefy 6-foot-4, Neeson certainly looks physically imposing, but it was the notion of casting someone who can actually act in an action hero role that was the counter-intuitive concept that made both films — "Taken 2" is more a remake than a sequel — so successful.
Neeson's empathetic performing skills put him in a different category than the usual suspects for this kind of a part. His acting makes him seem human and even vulnerable, someone we can't help but worry over even though it's those feckless Albanians we should be nervous about.
Rather than take Bryan into new territory, say rescuing a film critic trapped in a claustrophobic screening, Luc Besson, as producer and cowriter (with Robert Mark Kamen) the guiding spirit of the enterprise, has wisely opted to pretty much tell the same story all over again.
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The endangered parties have been expanded to include Bryan's ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), as well as the by-now older and wiser daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), but self-named director Oliver Megaton has clearly been told not to stray too far from the well-trodden path of the original.
So, after Murad's dirge-like threat, we move briefly to Los Angeles, where Bryan is revealed to be as obsessive as ever. When he gets his car washed, he's fussy enough about the results to do the final drying himself, and when he says he'll pick Kim up at 2 p.m. for a driving lesson (she's failed the test twice), he shows at exactly the appointed time.
Kim, however, is dallying with her new boyfriend and has blown off the whole lesson thing. Dad, ever resourceful, stealthily tracks her down and delivers a lecture about how "when you make plans you keep them." Some things never change.
What has changed is that ex-wife Lenore's new marriage does not seem to be working out. When mother and daughter find their long-planned girls getaway overseas has been canceled, Bryan, in a moment of expansiveness he will soon regret, invites them to join him in picturesque Istanbul, where he has a job guarding some fabulously wealthy sheik.
Murad, who turns out to be as well-sourced as Bob Woodward, finds out about the trip immediately, and before you can say "blood oath," a trio of sizable vans packed with swarthy guys who have not smiled since glasnost is headed to Istanbul with vengeance on their minds.
Murad's minions would like to quietly kidnap all members of the Mills family, but Bryan, the world's most aware human being, soon gets wise to their game. He tries to evade the evildoers as poor Lenore, who likely did see the first movie, wails, "I can't believe this is happening." Believe it, Lenore, it is going down again.
Bryan is initially no match for this Balkan horde, even though his hyper-aware mind can literally memorize entire automobile routes despite being blindfolded. But Bryan has a secret weapon his adversaries don't suspect: his daughter Kim.
Yes, he has to give Kim a classic "I need you to calm down and listen very carefully" telephone pep talk, but once Kim gets a grip she is able to help her dad do what he does best. (Hint: not macramé.) Kim also has, those failures at the DMV notwithstanding, an unlooked-for gift for driving an escape vehicle like a bat out of hell, helped by a little browbeating from her ever-obsessive dad.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sensuality
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: In general release
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