Starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace. Written by Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen. Directed by Olivier Megaton. 14A. 92 min. Opens Oct. 5.
The original Taken caught audiences by surprise with its casting of stolid old Liam Neeson as a bullish action hero. Four years and several wolf-punches later, Neeson is no longer the guy we don’t see coming, and so the dynamics of this sequel are all wrong. The film takes its star’s “particular set of skills” for granted, and fails to generate much in the way of excitement.
Not that Taken 2 doesn’t try to raise the stakes. This time out, former CIA operative Bryan Mills (Neeson) finds both his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), under threat by Albanian bad guys who are out for vengeance after the events of the first film (which of course did not end well for anybody with an Eastern European accent). Somewhat ironically, Mills’ preternatural cautiousness does not preclude inviting the women in his life to join him for a holiday in Istanbul, and it’s not long before black vans are descending upon the family’s hotel, packed with tracksuit-wearing henchmen.
Neeson slips into the tough guy role with a weariness that seems simultaneously to belong to both the character and the actor. Grace, on the other hand, appears to be battling the ridiculousness of her part: a headstrong young woman who’s oddly charmed by her father’s borderline-incestuous overprotectiveness, and who spends the first half of the movie running around shoeless in a bikini top. Grace does feature in the film’s sole memorable and entertaining sequence, where Bryan uses a cell phone to talk Kim through an elaborate reconnaissance mission involving throwing live grenades into public areas. But since one of the through-lines in this franchise is the casual acceptance, if not outright encouragement, of Americans smashing their way through foreign capitals, one weathered old landmark at a time, this stuff is just par for the course.