In nature, lightning occasionally strikes the same place twice. In the movies, it almost never happens.
So as good as Liam Neeson was in Taken, as good as he often is in Taken 2, the sequel — about the family of all those Albanians he killed in Taken taking their revenge — is an often silly movie where the strain to stay credulous shows.
Neeson's retired secret agent, Bryan Mills, is being hunted by the few Albanians left after he massacred most of the Albanian mob for kidnapping his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) the last time around. So what does he do? He invites Kim and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) along with him on a trip to Istanbul.
What could go wrong?
He doesn't know that the Muslim mobster (Rade Serbedzija) has sworn he will have his "justice." But Bryan is onto them in a flash. Next thing you know, he's giving his wife the same lecture he gave Kim, once upon a time in France: "I need you to focus."
They're both nabbed. He warns his daughter with one last cell phone call. She too has to "focus." (Again.)
Then, tied up and hooded, they're whisked off somewhere as Brian counts the seconds between turns, the sounds he hears passing, working out where they might be.
MacGyver has nothing on this dude.
The villain smacks his lips and makes speeches. In English. The few remaining Albanian mobsters all speak English.
"Your death weeel not be queeeck," he hisses. It weeeel not be pleasant!"
Neither weeel yours, pal.
Producer/co-writer Luc Besson once gave us The Professional, a movie about a hitman savant, a "cleaner" (Jean Reno) whose arrival somewhere prompted bad guys to say, "Somebody's coming. Somebody serious."
Nobody's more serious than Neeson in this part. The hulking ex-boxer lumbers through Istanbul's narrow streets, shouts at his driver's test-flunking daughter ("Faster!") when they wind up in a stolen cab, takes a beating, and delivers one too.
But Besson, who lets Olivier Megaton direct these films, has run out of gags, ways to put characters into and out of jeopardy. Taken 2 defies logic and credibility as it puts its character's in harm's way and refuses to take the easy, logical way out.
And hilariously, our villain hears explosions, shots fired, and always says the same thing: "Go und zee what happened."
Besson's Islamophobia is an amusing subtext to all this. Here his characters are in perhaps the most beautiful and most secular city in the Middle East, and he never loses an opportunity to let us hear Muslim calls to prayer, suggest a conspiracy between Muslim mobsters and Muslim cops, or to have Bryan or his family shoot, smash, steal, or set off grenades in scenic Istanbul.
It's as propulsive and kinetic as the original Taken, all chases and shootouts and brawls and narrow escapes. But this sequel's shortcomings make us feel like the ones who've been taken.
Directed by Olivier Megaton. Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. A Twentieth Century Fox release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sensuality. Running time: 90 minutes.
Critic's rating: ** 1/2
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