MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Taken 2’

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If I have learned anything from watching the two “Taken” films, it’s this: Never go on an international vacation with Liam Neeson.

Sure, it’s only his family who have been targeted so far: In the first film, his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), was kidnapped in Paris; in the second, the baddies nab his lovely ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), in Istanbul. But let’s face it: If this sequel does well, more sequels, more family members, and more overseas abductions will be required. Family reunions in Rome are obviously begging for trouble, but that’s just the beginning. At a certain point, anyone located in Liam Neeson’s general vicinity will be at risk.

Still, it’s probably not worth worrying too much. The first “Taken” was something of a surprise: a satisfyingly brutal action showcase for Mr. Neeson, who used the film’s unexpected success to establish himself as a B-movie action star.

“Taken 2” is more of a missed opportunity. For one thing, there’s the title: Why not “ReTaken,” or “Taken, Again,” or, for those who prefer brevity, “Took”?

If one still insists on going the numbered-sequel route, there’s still the matter of the subtitle. It’s hard to justify making a movie about spousal kidnapping that’s a sequel to a film called “Taken” and not calling it: “Taken 2: Take My Wife, Please.”

That’s not even the biggest whiff. No, that would be the way this sequel wastes its central asset, the majestic Mr. Neeson. As in the original, Mr. Neeson plays Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA operative who now works private security details for wealthy clients. And, as in the original, he’s called into action in a very personal way when his family is targeted by an army of track-suit-wearing thugs while on an international trip.

But the first film helped establish Mr. Neeson’s tough guy cred by allowing him to use his wits and his will: He was smart about getting the information he needed, and also willing to go the extra brutal mile if that’s what it took. This time, he’s just a bigger, badder version of the thugs who are after him, a grim lug with a gun and a very personal mission.

The new baddies are after Mills and family because of the events, by which I mean the dozens of onscreen murders, that took place in the first film. It’s a family affair: Mills, we are told, killed sons and husbands in order to get his daughter back. Now their impressively well-armed fathers and brothers are after Mills and his relations.

Call it the blowback theory of sequel plot development, a cheap parable about the cycle of violence and the way revenge infects the world. Which is funny, to say the least, coming from a film that happily and cynically exploits that very cycle for the noble purpose of selling popcorn and movie tickets.

The first film’s success came partly from the unapologetic way it dished out the violent pleasures of cinematic justice. The sequel lazily scolds its audience for the same thing while simultaneously attempting to capitalize on it. The good news is that the cycle of violence can be stopped, and additional relatives saved from inevitable abduction: All it requires is for the audience to respond to this particular sequel by saying “We’re not gonna take it.”

★½

TITLE: “Taken 2”

CREDITS: Directed by Oliver Megaton; screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

RATING: PG-13 for strong violence

RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes

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