IN the first Taken, released in 2008, Liam Neeson proved that a chap is never too old to kick posterior. Playing the father of a kidnapped daughter, the voice of Aslan the lion showed that an actor over 50 did not have to go gently into that good night of period dramas and twinkly eyed grandpa parts – he could roar and punch and shoot and jump as well as any young buck.
Suddenly, it was like the age barrier to wearing a black leather jacket had never existed. Dad rage was all the rage.
It was a crazy idea, but executed slickly enough by director Luc Besson and Neeson to make money. Which is why four years later we have Taken 2, a film that demonstrates nothing more than what a fine line there is between delightfully unhinged and laughably bad.
The first picture was set in Paris, where young Kim Mills (Maggie Grace) had unwisely gone on holiday. One says unwisely because Besson, the creator of Leon and the Transporter series and the writer-director of the first Taken (in the second he is the writer), is not a man you would want to have in charge of your holiday plans. No sooner had Ms Mills commented on how wonderfully elegant Paree was than she was nabbed by sex traffickers. Dad Bryan (Neeson) naturally took umbrage at this, and being an ex-CIA agent he was in a position to do something about it. The parentis duly went loco.
Cut to four years later and Kim the intrepid traveller has become a nervy young woman who is unable to pass her driving test. How skittery is she? Well, she can't parallel park. Oh to have been in the script meeting the day the writers wanted a shorthand for "utterly ill-equipped to take care of herself in the modern world" and came up with "can't park for toffee".
Dad is worried about this parking crisis, as one would be, but his job as an international security consultant must go on. Heading for a gig in Istanbul, he suggests to his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and Kim that they might like to join him. It's all going swimmingly for, oh, at least five minutes when it becomes clear that the business that began in the first film remains unfinished.
Taken 2's director is Oliver Megaton, the Frenchman who previously helmed Transporter 3 and the female assassin thriller Colombiana. From the off, it is clear that Megaton does not have high expectations of his target audience, choosing to provide English subtitles for such tricky phrases as "merci".
But that's the point about Megaton and Besson: they make European thrillers for blockbuster audiences. Their films are just foreign enough to have an exotic edge, but at the same time they have all the familiar sights and sounds and cliches of a shoot 'em up movie. As far as this duo is concerned, le bang bang, le car chase and le punch in the face are the same in any language.
Contrast this approach with more sophisticated French thrillers such as Tell No One and Point Blank. They were fast, smart, gabby films that set out to do action as well as emotion. Defiantly European (all those subtitles!) and ferociously entertaining, these were films that were just as much at home in the multiplex as the arthouse cinema.
Taken 2 makes no such attempts at nuance. Here, we have vaguely identified foreigners versus the Mills family, and this world ain't big enough for the both of them.
Neeson is not required to put in much of a stretch as far as his character's development goes. He does a lot of screwing up his eyes and rasping such encouragements as "I need you to focus". He also says "I don't have time to explain" a lot, which is just as well as he would have the audience in the cinema for at least three months trying to clarify some of the unlikelier turns taken by the story. There are twists in Taken 2 that truly take the Michael.
As for Istanbul, it fares about as well as Paris once Bryan and the bad guys get going with their fast cars and big guns. Through the gunsmoke, exhaust fumes and general Neeson-induced mayhem it looks like a lovely place to visit.
Once more donning the black leather jacket of revenge, Neeson earns his wages by just about holding this pile of kebabs together. He can still kick it in the Bourne-style fight sequences. Speaking of Bourne, there must now be an industry-wide moratorium on rooftop chase scenes before audiences keel over with boredom.
There is only so much even Neeson can do with a lacklustre script, though. The action, like the film in general, is tired, scrappy, and badly in need of a nice sit down. One to take back for a refund.
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