Friday, February 15, 2013

Taken 2

I have to admit that I really enjoyed the original Taken regardless of the fact that it starred a man in his 60s acting like James Bond and whooping the crap out of people a third of his age with little effort. It was an entertainingly dark action thriller that rarely pulled its punches to make it more family friendly (I saw the original European version instead of the PG-13 cut released stateside) and I gave it total props for that. Since it was a huge (unexpected) blockbuster it was inevitable that we’d get a sequel.

Taken 2 finds retired CIA agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) still working dangerous security jobs while being overly protective of his young daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). After completing a job he asks his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and Kim to join him in Istanbul for a vacation, but finds out all too late that the father (Rade Serbedzija) of a man he killed while rescuing his daughter has planned an elaborate scheme to exact his vengeance on the Mills family.
The basic idea behind a sequel, other than making money, is to take the idea behind the successful original film and make it bigger and (hopefully) better. Believe me when I say that I was surprised that Taken 2 actually has less going on than the first movie. Sure there are car chases, fistfights and shootouts, but the globetrotting adventure aspect of the original is sorely missing here since the entire meat of the story takes place within a 5 kilometer radius of Istanbul.

The problem is that the script is pretty pedestrian and doesn’t take any real risks. Playing it safe is the name of the game here and that feeling permeates every single scene. It is a simple rehash of the first film, but doesn’t do anything to set itself apart; its content with just being a cash grab and nothing more. Honestly, if I were to have written this sequel I would have had Mills train his daughter some of what he knows in order to better prepare her for the dangers of the world due to what happened in part one. When the villains kidnap him and his ex-wife to exact their revenge I would have shifted the focus to her and have her be the hero that has to rescue her family using the skills he taught her. Over the course of the film we would watch Kim grow up from being a timid, scared young girl to a confident young adult as well. Sadly I am not a Hollywood screenwriter (yet).
Lately writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen haven’t been able to pen a script together that doesn’t end up being a lackluster and lazy effort, and when they team up with director Olivier Megaton the issue becomes even more apparent. Their previous collaborations, Transporter 3 and Colombiana, were pretty horrible and I’m surprised that Megaton hasn’t been dropped from Besson’s gallery of directors. Dude’s a pretty godawful filmmaker and can’t even seem to direct amazing actors like Neeson successfully. Just watch the eye-rollingly hokey opening scenes between Janssen and Neeson and you’ll see exactly what I mean. His choice of casting Rade Serbedzija as the villain shows how uncreative Megaton is because this actor is ALWAYS PLAYING VILLAINS (Shooter, The Fog, The Saint)! Be original for fuck’s sake!

Liam Neeson, who gave a convincing performance as the “always on the job” Mills in the original, seems to have lost his ability to make the most dimwitted lines of dialogue sound honest and/or deadly serious (“Your mother; is going to be taken”). He does seem to be doing most of his own stunt work here which is a complete change from the first film where he was obviously using a body double for most of his action scenes. The overly edited fight at the climax is either 100% Neeson or some of the best facial replacement CGI I’ve ever seen.
Both Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen are given more to do here, although Famke takes on the kidnapee role not once but twice over the 90 minute runtime. Grace gets to become her father’s sidekick and manages to hold her own more or less. I still find it incredibly distracting that she’s thirty and playing a 19 year old. She doesn’t pull it off quite as well here as she did in part one, but I did enjoy seeing her on the offensive this time instead of the victim again. Famke gets more screen time this time around but spends the majority of it either unconscious or whimpering in pain.

The utter ridiculousness of some of the events here also turned me off a bit. There are three scenes in particular that irked me in the extreme:
- One is a car chase scene where Kim, who had just learned to parallel park at home, instantly becomes the best stunt car driver in all of Europe/Asia. She can spin her vehicle multiple times to allow her father to shoot at their pursuers, drift around corners and outrace trains all the while proclaiming “I can’t do it!”, and then a second later she does.

- Another is the embassy scene where Kim drives a taxi right through the front gates and parks in the courtyard, and not one of the heavily armed guards shoots at them. Not one. They just stand back and let them crash through the check-in booth and drive up to the front door (“Can you call the embassy in Istanbul and tell them not to shoot us?”).

- Mills notices that he and his wife are being followed while driving through a crowded market and he begins to tell her exactly what she needs to do to get away without being caught. He tells her this while looking her in the eyes and never taking them off her… while still driving through the densely populated market. You can even see that the car is moving back and forth as if he’s steering around people. I’m assuming that Mills is really Qui-Gon Jinn and he drives with The Force.

I also wish that the writers would find a use for Mills’ gaggle of retired CIA pals. The only reason for them to exist is to show that he as a social life and doesn’t spend every waking moment stalking his daughter.
I did get a kick out of seeing Mills’ detective skills at work. When he and his ex-wife are kidnapped we see him figuring out the path the getaway driver is taking by counting how many seconds pass before making a turn and memorizing the sounds he hears along their journey. How he figures out the exact distance he has traveled from his hotel by using the sounds of exploding grenades his daughter is setting off was pretty clever as well. It’s like a poor man’s GPS.

I was not very impressed with this film. Sure it has some moments of wit and intelligence, but for the most part it is a slow and uninvolving action thriller. I did have high hopes that the word of mouth I heard was wrong and that people were watching this movie with The Phantom Menace levels of unreal expectations. I just wanted a fun adventure with the characters I liked from Taken, but didn’t even get that. Taken 2 is a generic downgrade. If this was the first movie and Taken was the sequel I would be singing its praises right now. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case, and I fear that the already announced Taken 3 will befall the same fate. Mills deserves better.

2 out of 5

1 comment:

  1. It’s exactly the same type of stuff the second go around, except with more of it. More action, more running, more shooting, and most of all, more Liam Neeson kicking ass. That’s all I really needed. Nice review C.