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Movie of the Day: Taken 2 (2012)

05 May

Bryan Mills, the hero at the center of Taken 2, is apparently the most brilliant man in the history of international espionage.  He can triangulate his location over the phone, guiding his daughter who is using a map and a shoestring, all while handcuffed to a pipe in a basement (more on that later).  He can kill 30 bad guys without getting shirt dirty, and still muster enough strength to run 5 miles and kill another twenty.  So where are his master-class instincts when it comes to keeping his family from being kidnapped?  This is the second time this has happened.  It’s kind of like the parents in Home Alone, you forgive the first mishap but the second time it’s just bad parenting.

The original Taken from 2008 grafted the serious real-life issue of human trafficking onto a Jason Bourne-style action picture.  It made for an odd mixture that never really came together.  Taken 2 is slightly better maybe because it doesn’t try as hard.  It is a revenge thriller and that’s about it.  It isn’t a bad film.  What it does, it does very well.  It’s the kind of knock-around action picture that Chuck Norris use to make, only with Albanians as the bad guys instead of ninjas.  Weighing the evens with the odds, the ninjas make better villains.

The surprise is that Taken 2 is the rare sequel that actually has a purpose for existing other than to cash in on a brand name.  It has a plot that so simple and uncluttered that is isn’t even necessary to have seen the original.  The first film took place in Paris and had Bryan (Liam Neeson) killing thugs in order to retrieve his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) who had been kidnapped and sold to a prostitution ring.  Mills, an intelligence agent, killed at least 40 people before the end credits.  In that film, he was presented as one of those highly skilled assassin types who can wipe out a room full of men armed with machine guns and never break a sweat.  Here we learn that he can sit blindfolded in the backseat of a car and tell where the driver is going by listening to the the sounds in the immediate area and counting the seconds ticking away on his watch.  It’s a neat trick, he must have Jedi reflexes.

As the sequel opens we see the bodies of Mills’ enemies being loaded onto a cargo plane and shipped back to Albania so they can be buried.  Front and center at t the funeral is an elderly man with vengeance in his eyes.  He is Murad Krasniqi (played by the always reliable Rade Šerbedžija), father of one of the men that Mills murdered.  He has strong connections and he wants Mills and his family to pay, and is willing to forgive the fact that his dead son was involved in human trafficking.

Meanwhile, we catch up with Bryan who is snooping around after daughter Kim who has a new boyfriend and has twice failed her driver’s test – no points for guessing that she’ll be called upon later to do the driving in a car chase.  We also catch up with his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) who is one of those Movie Wives who is so good-hearted and so beautiful that she can look gorgeous even after being beaten unconscious.  Fortunately for Bryan, she is having relationship problems with her new husband.  She and Bryan make lovey-dovey eyes at one another proving that a spark still exists.  With that, Bryan suggests that she and Kim come on vacation with him in Istanbul where he will be working as bodyguard to a sheik.

Murad determines to find out where the Mills family is staying, so he makes a bribe here, a threat there, and eventually gets the location.  Soon his goon squad is converging on the hotel.  The chief difference between the first Taken and the second is that Kim isn’t the one who gets kidnapped.  This time it is the parents who are taken.  In a scene way too complicated for its own good, Bryan – handcuffed to a pipe in an undisclosed basement – makes a call to Kim – still in the hotel – and has her draw lines on a map so he can calculate his own location.  How does he pinpoint the location?  He has her toss a hand grenade at the parking deck across the street from the hotel.  Escaping from the hotel in the melee, she is required to throw more grenades as she gets closer to his prison basement.  To our amazement, she manages to reach him without the grenades causing an international incident.  It is possible that Kim throws enough WMD’s to qualify as an international terrorist.  This movie isn’t that observant.

This is not a movie where logic is the primary goal.  The goal is to entertain us with chases and shoot-outs.  Some scenes work, others don’t.  The director Olivier Megaton (that’s a real name) knows how to create suspense, but he’s not as good creating action scenes.  That’s too bad because they make up most of the movie.  These scenes come in three varieties: car chases, gun fights and hand-to-hand combat.  In all three cases the action is shot in a jump-cut rapid-fire style so that we can’t get a clear sense of what is happening.  Liam Neeson faces a bad guy, they tangle and then we are treated to a series of shots, each lasting about two seconds or less.  There is no skill to the fighting, just a lot of confused editing.

What makes up for the bad action scenes is a moderately good performance by Liam Neeson.  Neeson, whose career seems to have slipped from great film work like Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York and Kinsey into recent bone-head action pictures like The Grey, The A-Team, Clash of the Titans and Battleshipis at the service of a movie that requires him to simply look concerned when not beating the snot out of someone.  To be fair, no one knows how to look concerned quite like Liam Neeson.  Now in his 60’s, he has the kind of strong, laconic, world-weary presence that Robert Mitchum had – that’s high praise.  It says something of his talent that he hasn’t lost his skills as an actor even when the material is less than he deserves.

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