Four years after Fox’s low-budget “Taken” grabbed a surprise $225 million worldwide, catapulting thesp Liam Neeson to unlikely action-star status, producer-scribe Luc Besson chases another payday with “Taken 2,” equaling the original in enjoyable silliness, if not brutal nastiness. Shifting the action from Paris to Istanbul, “Taken 2” promotes Maggie Grace’s serially unlucky teen from distressed damsel to plucky participant, and also develops Famke Janssen’s ex-wife role, decisions that could help broaden the pic’s appeal beyond action fans. Political correctness only extends so far, however: Depiction of Albanian heavies won’t promote Besson as an apt candidate for U.N. goodwill ambassador.
Two years after the events of “Taken,” retired CIA agent Bryan Mills (Neeson) hasn’t lost any of his overprotective impulses toward his now 19-year-old daughter, Kim (Grace): When she fails to show up for her driving lesson, he tracks her down to her new b.f.’s house via the GPS device he secretly planted in her cell phone. Meanwhile, with relations between the divorced parents on the thaw, Bryan invites former spouse Lenore (Janssen) and his daughter to join him in Istanbul for a holiday tagged to the end of his latest bodyguard assignment.
Unluckily for them, Murad (Rade Sherbedgia), still consumed with bitter rage over the death of his sex-trafficker son at Mills’ hands in the first pic, seizes a chance for revenge. A last-minute change in the family’s sightseeing plans helps Kim escape the kidnapping that befalls her parents, and with the clock rapidly ticking, she becomes their best and only chance of rescue.
The pic’s enjoyably ludicrous highlight sees Kim, armed with a city map, shoelace, marking pen and several hand grenades, quickly locating and arming her father, who barks orders at her from a tiny device he had concealed on his body for just such an eventuality. The success of this elaborate father-daughter communication and the events that follow hinges on some of the most lackadaisical hostage-guarding in the history of criminal endeavor; given Mills’ proven efficacy at wiping out adversaries, it might have been advisable to have kept a significantly keener eye on their captive. The first round of action climaxes with a high-speed getaway in a stolen vehicle, with inexperienced Kim fumbling at the wheel as bullets rain down. As Driver’s Ed goes, it’s what you might call a baptism by fire.
Helmer Olivier Megaton (“Colombiana”) proves an efficient substitute for “Taken” helmer Pierre Morel, without exactly offering a personal stamp, rendering this just another product in the Besson hit factory. Photogenic locations, including the Suleymaniye Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and the Bosphorus, are agreeably captured by d.p. Romain Lacourbas (also “Colombiana”), nicely exploiting Istanbul’s special quality of light. The shift to this more exotic locale requires considerable exposition, however, including the news that the city straddles Europe and Asia, prompting a wide-eyed Kim to ask her father incredulously, “How do you know this stuff?”
Plenty of the dialogue, co-scripted once again with regular Besson collaborator Robert Mark Kamen, falls into the so-bad-it’s-good category, and audience derision is presumably all part of the envisaged fun. Action is notably softer throughout, sidestepping the certification issues that challenged the original film (“Taken” required cuts to achieve a PG-13 in the U.S., and went out on a 15 certificate in Blighty’s cinemas and 18 on DVD). Gorehounds have already been disappointed to learn the British censor passed this less severe sequel as a 12A for “moderate threat and violence.”
Neeson, despite having turned 60 in June, looks spritely enough in the role, and more than capable of another go-round should “Taken 2” match its predecessor’s success. Whether audiences would believe that Bryan, Lenore or Kim could be kidnapped yet again is another matter.