Review: Liam Neeson's Special Skills Can't Save 'Taken 2'

"Taken 2" is a disaster, though in the finest sense of the word. A debacle you'll chuckle at, a spectacle you'll marvel was even made, the whole gambit of studio excess exposed with Liam Neeson jump cuts blinding your every attempt to give "Taken 2" the benefit of the doubt. In many ways, "Taken 2" is the very worst example of our culture, but back in real life it's simply a film that everyone will forget all about around five seconds after they exit the theater. They say your brain levels off your memories of the tough times, eventually making them retro-palatable, which means "Taken 2" is a good decade from fond nostalgic remembrance. Looking forward to it!

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is a man of routine. You can tell because he picks up his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) for her driving lesson at precisely 2 PM. Though in real life Ms. Grace is nearing 30 years of age, in this "Taken 2" universe she hasn't yet passed her driving test, the strains of credulity be damned. It all comes off like an episode of "The O.C.," where folks nearing their mid-life crises are also playing teens. Still, "The O.C." is a beloved (and leveled) memory while "Taken 2" comes off as if a bunch of clowns got together one afternoon to learn how to make stone-fired pizza, floppy shoes sliding across marble floors. What I'm getting at is, you'll end up with more than a few serious cheese burns in that scenario.

Now, as the title suggests, some very serious taken-ing transpires. People are taken, and it's up to Bryan to un-taken everyone in his little family unit. Bryan's ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), accompanies him to Istanbul, along with their daughter, which is precisely where the trouble starts. Last time around, in "Taken," Bryan took out a baker's dozen of guys, all in the quest to get his daughter back. This time around, the family Bryan culled wants sweet revenge. They attempt to form a moral framework around the enterprise that goes a little something like, "Yeah, but this guy killed my son!" and they have very big speeches executed along these perilous ethical waters. There are more than a few times Bryan points out, "Well, yeah, but your son was a dastardly kidnapper and sex slave trader!" to which there is no real comeback, in the movie, or in real live even. Then, more guys get shot, stabbed and choked out, and people run from other people on rooftops. There will be actual scenes where a character throws a grenade in an attempt to echolocate another character like a Chuck Norris-ized dolphin. It's all very "Taken 2."

Naturally, none of this truly matters when we're considering the quality of the film. The story could be basically anything — "Liam Neeson Gets Taken to Disneyworld!" — and it would still work if the plot underneath it was sturdy enough. It is not. "Taken 2" is an exercise in forced emotions and piano music over strained faces, with only the audience's eye rolls to keep us all warm. "Taken 2" desperately paws at our heartstrings, but it's too clumsy by half. The Paris, Istanbul and Los Angeles cityscapes are considered, but this could have taken place anywhere, provided your example anywhere had nondescript bad guys willing to take people and bore them with speeches.

There are, however, amazing moments of levity. Kim, who has never learned how to drive, will be forced to drive for her life, all while her dad yells at her. It's 1000 straight seconds of "Kim! Move! Go faster! Watch out for that car!!" while around a billion dollars of damage is done in downtown Istanbul. The first time, for effect, makes sense. At five minutes in, it's clear the direction must have just been a bunch of doodles and squiggly lines on a legal pad. After the third "KIM!!" there's some chance the audience you're with will laugh, but after the tenth, you're all far more likely to quietly ponder the life choices that led you into a theater showing "Taken 2." More hilarity ensues, as the camera has a fun time not ever really showing a Neeson fight, but making certain we get huge amounts of bad guy speeches that go something to the effect of, "Wait until I get my hands on YOU!" The music from "Drive" is used, which is tragic in the sense that Ryan Gosling's film is around 500 times better.

"Taken 2" is a prime example of a film you should avoid. It feels long at 90 minutes, the action is tepid, the themes muddled. No one covers themselves in honor here, and the negatives far outweigh the positives. Where "Taken" had a warrior's spirit, "Taken 2" faces the con man's dilemma. It wants to rob you, but you seem to be backing slowly away.

Grade: D