I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but I liked Taken and will certainly watch Taken 2 (when it comes on Netflix). 'Taken 2' review: Dad gets mad - again
by Mick LaSalle
Action. Starring Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen and Maggie Grace. Directed by Olivier Megaton. (PG-13. 91 minutes.)
In "Taken 2," poor Liam Neeson doesn't ask for much out of life, just a chance to worry over his teenage daughter, like an old fusspot, and maybe get back with his ex-wife. He wants to talk about basketball with his buddies and put his violent past as a lethal CIA operative behind him. But the bad guys won't leave him be. They keep showing up and forcing him to kill them.
"Taken 2" is the sequel to "Taken," the utterly irresistible 2009 thriller that introduced Neeson as an action star in the Harrison Ford vein, that of the fellow who's seemingly normal and reasonable - just don't get him mad. In the original, Albanian slave traffickers abducted his daughter (big mistake). In the sequel, the Albanians are grieving over their dead - lots and lots of dead - and decide that it's payback time.
Indeed, they decide to take their revenge about two lines into the screenplay, which is just the first example of why "Taken 2" is like a textbook on how to make beautiful, successful and highly satisfying junk-food cinema. When it's just a plot point, the information gets tossed out as fast and as forcefully as possible. Time is lavished only on the things that matter.
And in "Taken 2" the things that matter have all to do with character. If you see the movie, this is something worth noticing: As much as this picture is action driven - virtually conceived as a series of interlocking, escalating sequences - its greatest delights are grounded in personality, in the fun of having a protagonist who combines homespun values with velociraptor functionality. The movie commits to the character of Bryan Mills just as Neeson does, unflinchingly, with no compromise, irony or winking at the audience.
To give one example of how effective this can be, take the scene in which Neeson, chained up down in some hellish basement by the traffickers, sneaks out a call to his teenage daughter. He instructs her to go into his suitcase, take out two hand grenades and a gun, and go to the roof to await a second phone call. For good measure, he instructs her to "Be casual."
This moment is grandly pleasing in a number of ways: (1) In its sheer audacity as a plot turn; (2) In its insane and yet complete believability in terms of the Mills character - both in that he'd give his daughter these instructions and that he'd happen to have hand grenades in his suitcase; and (3) In the way it makes us anticipate more. What does he want her to do with those hand grenades, anyway?
It all starts as just a little vacation in Istanbul, which looks stunning. Mills is pleased, because his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) seems to be coming back around to him, and their daughter (Maggie Grace) is there, too. They're family again, and all is well, until he notices that their car is being followed. Never one unwilling to deny reality, he snaps into survival mode - and he stays there, angry and focused, as well as irritated that these people keep forcing him to extremes.
"Taken 2" is not about subtlety. At one point a fatherly looking man (Rade Serbedzija) tells Mills that he plans to sell Mills' daughter back into slavery and that "she will be abused by so many men that she'll be nothing more than a piece of meat a dog would not have." OK, so that's the bad guy. Got it. Fortunately, a good action film doesn't need subtlety but clean lines, sure definitions, big emotions and, ideally, economy. "Taken 2" has all these things. It also has the most genuinely nerve-racking car chase I've seen in years.
Yes, for the record "Taken" was fresher, and therefore better, but not by a lot. As sequels go, "Taken 2" is more than respectable, and so enjoyable I'd happily sit down right now and watch "Taken 3," if it existed. Someday it probably will.