Taken 2


            I have to admit, I was taken, too.  The first “Taken” (2008), though initially implausible, was gripping, realizing every parent’s worst nightmare; it had a gritty realism and its violence was brutally unemotional dragging the audience into the movie.  While “Taken 2,” the new Liam Neeson vehicle directed by Olivier Megaton, reigns at the box office this week, it is clearly relying on its forerunner’s reputation and should not stay on top long.

The plot for “Taken 2” has devolved from preying on parents’ fears to celebrating high school freshmen’s heroic fantasies.  In the first film, Bryan (Liam Neeson, “Kingdom of Heaven”), a former CIA operative now relegated to occasional gigs as a security guard for rock stars, uses his skills as an assassin to hunt down his teenage daughter Kim’s (Maggie Grace, TV’s “Lost”) kidnappers, who have taken her while she was vacationing in Paris; he of course kills them and rescues Kim, much to the relief of his estranged former spouse Lenore (Famke Janssen, “X-Men”).  In “Taken 2,” Bryan is now running a top notch security detail for high profile international businessmen in Istanbul; Lenore and Kim join him there.  A relative of the Albanian criminals Bryan dispatched so professionally in Paris demands revenge so Lenore is taken while thugs pursue Kim through the bazaars of Istanbul.  Bryan must save Kim and try to rescue Lenore.  Naturally, mayhem ensues.

Written by the normally reliable Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element,”  “The Transporter” franchise) and Robert Mark Kamen (“A Walk in the Clouds,” “Gladiator”), the screenplay is wretchedly sophomoric with lousy dialogue, improbable characterizations, and far-fetched situations.  These fatal flaws could be overcome if the atmosphere of the movie displayed enough panache to swagger through the ordeal with a twinkle in its eye; instead, the flat lines and understated characters are just plain dull.    The precipitous rise of Bryan to near celebrity status among the security glitterati is never explained, and his overtly modest existence, especially when compared to Lenore’s lavish lifestyle and his luxurious working conditions just makes no sense.  The first fifteen minutes attempt to show Kim struggling with independence after her harrowing adventure in Paris, but her actions and dialogue are completely unbelievable.  Once the action starts, she becomes an unlikely split personality, bouncing back and forth from fierce determination to fragile pessimism.

The action scenes themselves are well done, evincing the same sort of martial artistry as in “The Bourne Identity.”  A car chase through the streets of Istanbul and numerous hand-to-hand combat scenes are all exciting and visceral.  But the seedy squalor of the villains’ lives in conjunction with their primitive weaponry is belied by the money they spend to obtain intelligence on and access to Bryan and his family and the apparent power they wield.  Like the preposterous dichotomous lifestyles of Bryan and inconsistent personality of Kim, the Albanian antagonists are just implausible.

It’s as though “Taken 2” was written by an inexperienced high school student imagining himself as Bryan to be a regular soft-spoken blue collar suburban guy barbecuing and drinking beer with his buddies, but having a high profile career that allows him to globetrot around the world living the highlife; meanwhile, his fighting prowess, sharpshooting skills, and knowledge of weaponry is unmatched, allowing him to protect his loved ones from all threats.  This is a case of a good premise (as seen in “Taken”) fleshed out in a bad way.

“Taken 2” has some good fight scenes, a fun car chase scene, and some romantic shots of the Hagia Sophia, but if you’re looking for characters you can care about and a plot structure that makes sense, see something else.

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