NB: these are my notes on the film, not a review – so you might not want to read them if you’ve not seen it yet.
Directed by Pierre Morel (District 13) and co-scripted by producer Luc Besson, Taken was a breakthrough hit – establishing middle-aged Liam Neeson as an action movie star who could hold up his own franchise as well as decorate other heroes’ journeys. It gave Neeson a signature speech (‘I have a very particular set of skills’) and spun some fairly obnoxious attitudes to foreigners into a thump-fest that has crept up into a lot of folks’ guilty pleasures lists. So, a sequel was needed – though Morel has been replaced by Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3), the Paris locale is ditched in favour of picturesque Istanbul and, perhaps fatally, the hard-edged tone of the first film has been deliberately blunted to secure a 12A rating (with cuts liable to be restored for a ‘full strength’ DVD release). The results are acceptable nonsense, but aren’t liable to change anyone’s life.
With some ingenuity, the script sets up a situation whereby – this time – it’s Bryan Mills (Neeson) and his estranged-but-open-to-reconciliation wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) who get ‘taken’, leaving former abduction bait daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) at liberty to run around, following silly orders (like chucking grenades out of her hotel room window) and facilitating her Dad’s rescue-and-escape stratagems. In a riff on that Austin Powers nobody-cares-about-the-family-of-a-minion gag, we open in that town in Albania where all the sex traffickers come from and evil patriarch Murad (Rade Serbedzija, who owns such roles) burying the many members of his family Bryan slaughtered out of hand in the first film, and vowing vengeance against the ex-CIA agent. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, in developments more suited to a Fockers flick, Bryan is antsy about his annoyingly sulky, pettish teenage daughter – Grace is still the weak link in this cast, but gets more bikini time in this instalment – having a boyfriend and failing her driver’s test twice. So, the Millses hook up in Turkey after Bryan has done a security gig there – and Murad’s gang swoop down to abduct them with torture and revenge in mind. Kim, we’re told, will be sold to the lowest brothel in the world.
The scripting is lazier this time round – Murad’s minions spend a ridiculous amount of time sitting around, smoking, watching football, not paying attention to their resourceful captives and quite deservedly get slaughtered en masse for their uselessness. Other clichés are well in evidence – the goons who are ridiculously willing to stay behind and hold off the killing machine hero when so ordered by their boss, the master villain who sets up a horrible fate for the goodie then doesn’t stick around to watch and enjoy his torment purely so the hero can work his way free, the lack of official police interest in multiple explosions and a body count the size of a small war taking place in a capital city. Neeson enjoys such whiskery schtick as the old retracing-a-journey-made-while-blindhooded-by-remembering-the-street-sounds gambit and growls ferociously but endearingly as he goes hand to hand with a horde of anonymous stunt men. Indeed, of the baddies, only Serbedzija has anything like a personality – but Neeson brings enough to the game for this not to matter much. It’s nice seeing Janssen getting more to do, even if it is mostly being hung upside-down and abused.
Locations are good, stunts are fine, but the plot is meh and prospects of a third go-round not encouraging. Maybe Besson should do an Avengers-type team-up of Nikita, Leon, the Transporter and Bryan Mills, preferably to rescue Milla Jovovich from the Resident Evil franchise.