MOVIES: Taken 2

MOVIES: Taken 2

Taken 2  admittedly suffers from most of the flaws that plague an average sequel — cheap, unoriginal capitalization on the initial offerings  — but it isn’t the worst movie you’ll see this year, not by a long shot.

It isn’t Godfather 2, but the first Taken wasn’t Godfather 1 either.  Taken 1 wasn’t exactly Art, but it was a delightful January surprise. It arrived in theaters with no expectations and minimal promotion during the typical winter drought where post-Oscar hopeful fare goes to die, and summer blockbusters are nothing but a dim hope on the arctic horizon. As such, it has more in common with Transporter 1 and 2 (also penned by Luc Besson), and like the Transporter series, it suffers to some degree the great (or even moderate) expectations raised by the first. The dialogue is a little dumber this time around; the car chases aren’t quite as fresh; but both series rise and fall on the backs of their main character, and both Jason Statham and Liam Neeson are charismatic and likeable — if unlikely — action heroes.

Taken 2 opens graveside at the funerals of the villains dispatched by Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills the first time around. For anyone who didn’t see the first (Neeson played an ex-CIA op now working Security who had to find and rescue his dimwitted daughter from Albanian sex traffickers), the particulars are dispensed with quickly. Rade Serbedzija all but twirls a mustache as he chokes out, “we’ll have our Revenge,” at the grave of his son, who Neeson killed in the first movie (after first torturing him for information.)

Cut to the sunny United States where Neeson’s biggest problem is getting stood up for a driver’s lesson date with the aforementioned teen daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace, who must be pushing 30 by now). Ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) reveals that Kim is off with her boyfriend, while hammily confessing the troubled state of her current marriage (veering close to ashing an imaginary Groucho cigar). The way she urges Bryan to take it easy, you’d think she’d said the new boyfriend was busy injecting their daughter with black tar heroin as opposed to just skipping a driving lesson.

Not surprisingly (at all), the next scene is Dad knocking on the boyfriend’s door. Awkwardness ensues; the driving lesson proceeds; and it’s explained that Neeson has an upcoming security gig in Istanbul and he was just taking care of business before leaving the country.

This is followed by some boring flashes to the villains preparing for his arrival, before we can cut back to the family unit, and Janssen tearily arriving at the door to explain to Neeson that the horrible soon-to-be-ex-husband has canceled the big upcoming family trip to China — handily paving the way for the family to join Dad for a little post work R and R.

He completes his Turkish assignment, the girls join him, and soon, daughter Kim is matchmaking Mom and Dad, hoping for a little Parent Trap reunion action. Everyone enjoys the vacation for about 37 minutes, and then Kim heads to the pool, while Mom and Dad are tailed down the streets. Neeson quickly assesses the situation and barks a series of long, intricate instructions to Famke Janssen (go into the fabric market; exit out the back door; look for a pair of stairs; go left to the gate; you will see a rooster….) who seems to process nothing beyond “get out of the car,” as she whimpers her way out the door.

Once she’s out of his hair, Neeson’s powers of evasion kick in, but, as we know from the trailer, Janssen manages to get herself captured, forcing Neeson’s confession, “Kim, your mom and I are about to be taken.”

Though trussed up like a Christmas goose, he is still able to  improbably enlist her aid a little later via a miniature phone he has stowed in his boot (a clever wink to Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone?)

The two reunite and outrun the bad guys in a death race to the U.S. Embassy — in a terribly unfortunate scene that all too painfully echoes our international landscape, where they barrel past soldiers and have to call in the aid of a fellow op to ensure they can get out of the car without being shot dead on sight.

Once Kim is safely stowed in the Embassy, Neeson must double back for Janssen (it is tough to make ferries look urgent), precipitating an ultimate showdown with his nemesis, Dad to Dad.  It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that there will inevitably come a point in the movie where Neeson must tell him, “I only killed your son because he kidnapped my daughter,” and Serbedzija will necessarily respond, “I don’t care.” (It is exactly like the scene in The Fugitive where Harrison Ford explains his innocence to Tommy Lee Jones, and Jones’s federal marshal has the exact same answer, “I don’t care.” The echoes probably aren’t an accident, as the Takens play on the same themes — a hero a little past his prime forced into extraordinary circumstances.)

Neeson explains with weary resignation that he knows if he kills the guy, more sons will just come for revenge.

Yes, everyone is agreed. Two sons remain, and they would surely feel compelled to avenge their father’s death.

“Mornin’ Sam.”
“Mornin’ Ralph.”

Neeson offers him a reprieve. He’d like to walk away; he’s tired; he just wants his family to be safe. They seem to be at an impasse. What to do?

These are their roles. They are like Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf. All day, Sam guards the sheep. All day Ralph tries to eat them. And then they punch their clock and go their separate ways. It’s the nature of the conflict.

What’s left…but Taken 3?