Taken 2: life of Bryan

For the sequel to 2008’s hit action-thriller Taken, writer/producer Luc Besson has doubled down the dumb of the original film’s rather daft, but enjoyable nonetheless, premise.  Had this been the worst of Taken 2’s problems, the result may have still been a passable Mills family holiday in Istanbul full of fisticuffs, shootouts and all around Liam Neeson bad-assery.  Unfortunately, Besson and co-scripter Robert Mark Kamen have, along with Twentieth Century Fox’s unabashed greed, Taken 2 testicles from former CIA agent Bryan Mills (Neeson), leaving both the character and this film a mere shell of the predecessor that electrified fans in the first place.

The set-up of Taken 2 see Bryan invite both his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), who he is now on sweet-as-sugar terms with, and their formerly “taken” daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) to join him on a trip to Istanbul for a bit of quality time together.   Meanwhile, the patriarch of those nasty Albanians Bryan dispatched of in Taken looks to avenge his family’s losses.  This time it is Kim who must help to rescue her parents after they, too, are taken.  This may sound fairly ludicrous, but rest assured it seems like pure genius when compared to how Taken 2 actually plays out and the dialogue it employs in doing so.  Despite coming from the same team (other than Olivier Megaton replacing Pierre Morel in the director’s chair) that produced the adrenaline pumping tomfoolery  of Taken four years ago, the follow-up doesn’t just feel like it’s been written by someone else; it is so bad that one wonders whether Besson and co decided to just spoof the original.  How else can the sheer stupidity of Bryan asking his daughter if she can “get out of the closet safely” be explained?

It’s difficult not to feel for Neeson, as he is lumbered with some true howlers, such as the classic moment where he asks Kim “Is there a safe place you can throw it?”  The “it” referring to a grenade and the “safe place” being somewhere in the centre of Istanbul, naturally.  The man starts the year punching wolves in the face with The Grey and ends it literally slap fighting with Albanian thugs following a conscious effort to completely neuter his character.  So, even well before Fox chopped three scenes of violence to secure a baffling 12A certificate from the British Board of Film Classification, the intention was clearly made to soften the tone for the sequel.  As Bryan, Neeson has the occasional line that, at least in his delivery, is reminiscent of the famous “I will find you and I will kill you” monologue from the original.  Disappointingly, this time around there is no menace in Neeson’s words.  Instead, Bryan seems to be more tongue-in-cheek than take-no-prisoners.  Why Besson, Kamen and Fox would ruin their own successful creation is a mystery, but that is exactly what they’ve done in Taken 2.

Aside from slaughtering their cash-cow, Taken 2 is a mess of a film.  Scenes cut down for the UK release suffer badly from their losses, as climactic moments are rendered incomprehensible, disjointed and seriously disappointing.  Poor editing isn’t just apparent in those scenes, though, as even standard sequences are unnecessarily shot from multiple angles and pasted together in ugly bouts of hyperactivity.  When Taken 2 isn’t being unintentionally hilarious, it’s surprisingly lifeless with an unconvincing paint-by-numbers revenge scheme at its core.  Besson and Kamen actually manage to erode any interest invested in Bryan and his family that may have been built in the previous film.

There are two ways to look at Taken 2: either its accidental hilarity tops the pillaging of the original’s appeal; or Besson and co are ribbing the audience, as they not-so subtly parody their own success.  Either way, Taken 2 is not the film most will hope or expect it to be, not by a long shot.  Incredibly stupid, even by the standard set by Taken, the sequel succeeds as a comedy far more than it does as a suspenseful action-thriller.  While Taken 2 is a direct follow-up in story-line terms, when it comes to content and tone, it’s closer to a family-friendly reboot.  It may be no great shame, given Taken’s guilty pleasure status, but Taken 2 presents itself as nothing more than a waste of time for everyone involved.  Don’t be taken by this imposter; stick to the first film, or better yet, The Grey4/10

Taken 2 is in cinemas 4 October

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