Film Review: Taken 2

Hard-luck bodyguard Liam Neeson is back in action, this time tracking down his abducted wife in Istanbul in an efficient sequel to the hit 'Taken.'

Anchored by Liam Neeson's performance as a father who will stop at nothing to protect his daughter, the first Taken won over viewers and critics alike. The sequel is more of the same, only without the driving pace and brutality of the original. Well-made and entertaining, Taken 2 will find an appreciative audience, even if fans feel that some of the spark is gone.
Taken 2 picks up two years after the first film, after retired CIA agent and bodyguard-for-hire Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) took out most of the Parisian criminal class searching for his kidnapped daughter Kim (Maggie Grace).

Now back in Los Angeles, Bryan obsesses over Kim's new boyfriend. He also tries to comfort ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), whose second marriage has hit the rocks. When Lenore's planned vacation to China falls through, Bryan invites her and Kim to join him in Istanbul after he finishes an assignment.

But Albanian gangsters led by Murad (Rade Sherbedgia) have targeted Bryan for wiping out their prostitution ring in Paris. They grab Bryan and Lenore when they leave their hotel. Fortunately, Bryan has enough time to warn Kim, who evades her attackers until the police arrive.

Thanks to his secret cell-phone, Bryan can guide Kim to the machine shop where he and Lenore are being tortured. Using hand grenades as a signaling device, Kim helps Bryan overcome his captors. Unfortunately, the surviving Albanians take Lenore to a new hiding place. After dropping Kim off at the American embassy, Bryan sets out to retrieve his wife.

The first Taken was so relentless that its high body count and Bryan's occasionally dicey methods made sense. The plot this time is a lot less driven, with screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen following a three-act structure too rigidly. The story gives Kim more to do, including a long car chase in which she drives while Bryan shoots. But instead of building on this sequence, the film basically repeats another pursuit and rescue, with Bryan going solo this time.

Neeson projects just the right amount of dignity and professionalism to win over viewers uncomfortable with action flicks in general. When Bryan pummels bad guys, it's to rescue his family, not just because they deserve it. Janssen is effective but underused, while Grace performs gamely. As the chief villain, Sherbedgia looks the part but doesn't have enough to do. Given the hordes of swarthy but anonymous thugs that fill out the film, Albanians might consider forming an anti-defamation league.

Taken 2 has been put together with typical EuropaCorp polish, even if a lot of the action is laughable. The Turkish settings are appropriately exotic, the camerawork is beguiling, and the editing is crisp and propulsive. But this would be just another genre exercise if it weren't for Neeson, who manages to give the film some much-needed depth and gravity.