So I mean, if it were me, and I’d just gone on my first vacation to Europe and gotten targeted by the first person I met in France and subsequently kidnapped by sex slave-traders and basically had the most harrowing experience of my life, I probably wouldn’t be going back to Europe any time soon. I don’t care how bad-ass my dad is, or even that he’s played by Liam Neeson. But then, I’m not perky teenager Kim Mills, nor am I Maggie Grace, who has now co-starred as Kim Mills in two movies, despite being more than ten years the character’s senior, so what do I know?
Well, I do know that the adventure of Taken (2008) continues with the cleverly named Taken 2 (What, was Retaken taken?)! Actually, this time, Kim is the one who doesn’t get taken. It’s her parents, which kind of tempts me to deem the unfortunate Mills family overtaken, but I’ll refrain.
Point is, even if the Mills family lives to suffer for yet another sequel, only one of these movies can prevail over the other. Clearly, it’s time for a Take-down!
So Bryan Mills is a semi-retired CIA agent who is estranged from (but clearly still loves) his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and is bummed that she married a rich jerk (that perennial “other guy,” Xander Berkeley) He remains a loving, if overly protective, father to the aforementioned Kim. He also has several former-colleague buddies who come over now and then for a beer-soaked barbecue without ever asking, “Gee, Bryan, why is your life such a collection of hoary old movie cliches?”
Then Kim, with Bryan’s reluctant permission, heads off with her sexually eager BFF Amanda (Katie Cassidy) to follow U2 across Europe, which is her first mistake. Her second is trusting the first handsome Frenchman they meet. Within minutes, while Kim is on the phone with Dad, masked gunmen show up to kidnap the girls to turn them into sex slaves, and don’t you hate when that happens? So under Bryan’s calm instruction, Kim allows herself to be taken (dun-dun-DUN!!!), knowing that his people-finding and martial arts skills as an ex-spook will enable him to find her and open the proverbial can of whoop-ass on her takers.
Spoiler Alert, re: the defending champion…
Kim is safe and sound, thanks to Bryan’s heroic efforts in the first movie, and the adventure continues, thanks to the first movie’s surprising box office success. This time, it’s Bryan heading off on a trip to Istanbul, I believe for a Phish concert, but don’t quote me on that, and he manages to convince Kim to forget all those negative memories of the whole “kidnapped and almost sold into sex slavery thing” to join him there, along with Lenore.
Once there, Kim lets Bryan and Lenore go off on their own, partially in hopes that the sparks between them will re-ignite, and partially to enable a sequence of her enjoying the hotel pool in a bikini. But Lenore and Bryan’s date is interrupted when they are taken (dun-dun-DUN!!!) by a gang comprised of the friends and relatives of all the dudes Bryan killed in the first movie, and boy, are they pissed. They are led by Murad, a swarthy, bearded grump played by Rade Serbedzija, Hollywood’s go-to guy for sinister-sounding accents. So it’s up to Kim, with dad’s help, to find her parents and help them escape so that she and Bryan will be even-Steven on the whole rescuing-from-being-taken dealio.
I can’t comprehend the monster success of Taken any better than I can that of fellow sheer mediocrities like Dan Brown, Thomas Friedman or Everclear. Maybe it was just really well marketed, or maybe it had the good fortune to open amid a sea of even crappier movies, or maybe it fed the public’s apparent desire to see the guy who played Oskar Schindler do some jiu-jitsu on a bunch of sleazy foreigners. Whatever. It’s a decent little diversion, a slick and forgettable B-picture, or possibly even closer to C. The script (by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, collaborators on the equally disposable Transporter movies) is really quite stupid and cardboard, but Neeson cuts an impressive figure, taking the whole thing just seriously enough and not an ounce more. And it zips along affably and efficiently, with sufficient chop-socky action (directed by Pierre Morel, also of Transporter franchise “fame”) to satisfy those who find a dose of that worth the cost of a ticket. I can’t quite say I enjoyed it, but I tolerated it for its relatively brief length, and even at its worst, I don’t recall it hitting any laughably bad patches.
Which brings us to the sequel.
Taken 2 features the same lead actors and screenwriters, so it’s difficult not to pinpoint the cause of the dip in quality at least partially on the new director, one Olivier Megaton, who directed Transporter 3, which now leaves me curious as to whether he wrecked that franchise as well. But what it boils down to is that I just love that an action director’s last name is “Megaton.” Oh, and also that his movie is pretty terrible.
Actually, there are some fundamental script problems that Megaton (Seriously. Love it!) can’t really be blamed for. The first one had the fairly universal premise of a loving father out to rescue his sweet, innocent, helpless teenage daughter. In this one, Neeson (over 60 now, and still, I’ll concede, a credible action hero) is the one in captivity, and he’s such a bad-ass, indestructible figure that not for a moment do we feel that he’s actually in jeopardy. The idea that this virtual superhero would need Kim’s help to be rescued is utterly ludicrous, and in fact is right about the point when the laughter kicked in.
Specifically, I’m referring to the point when the ever-resourceful Bryan (managing to make a cell phone call while tied up) instructs Kim to help him figure out where he and Lenore are being held by hurling grenades from the hotel balcony. I’m not making this up. She throws the grenades, they explode (hopefully not causing any casualties, but really, who knows?), and then he has her spread out a map of the city and use his shoelaces as a protractor (still not making this up) to chart two points where the captives might be. By the time he deduces, “I’m at the one on the right,” the audience was in genuine stitches. And this was a press screening, where laughing at such silliness is considered bad manners.
There’s also something bizarrely, unexpectedly tame about the sequel. The first film had a Death Wish-like violent brutality to it that matched its incendiary premise, and it pulled no punches. But this one… Want to guess what this evil, vengeful gang of thugs does to Lenore as Bryan watches, tied up and helpless to stop them? Kill her? Beat her senseless? Rape and dismember her? No, they give her a slight cut on the cheek and hang her upside down to, I dunno, get a head-rush, maybe? So the guys who swore on their sons’ graves to avenge those sons finally capture their prey and honor their oath with something slightly more uncomfortable than a wedgie? It’s just weird.
I’m not sure where this franchise can really go from here, now that the entire clan has been through the ringer. Maybe there’s a family dog they’ll foolishly decide not to leave in the kennel next time. That would be really stupid (and possibly adorable!), but it would have to work pretty hard to be stupider than Taken 2, which makes the first Taken look like an actual good movie that deserved its box office success and not the forgettable tripe it actually is. Anyway, point is, if the first film was cotton candy, the second one is candy that has been literally made from cotton. And thus, if you genuinely have nothing better to do, as difficult as that is to imagine… go with the original Taken. Unless you could really use a good laugh.