Liam Neeson puts his "particular set of skills" to use once again as everyone's favorite badass dad in Taken 2, but incoherent direction and lackluster screenwriting prove more formidable foes than any vengeful gangster as director Olivier Megaton and co-screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen fail to capture any of the gritty intensity that made the first film a surprise hit.
The movie's plot is simple: His family targeted by a vengeful crime boss while vacationing in Istanbul, retired CIA agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) must defeat an army of killers in order to get back home alive.
Perhaps it's a bad omen that the plot of Taken 2 can be summarized so succinctly and accurately, but as evidenced in the first installment, there's a certain beauty in simplicity as it allows the artists behind the camera some room for creative expression. But there's certainly no artistry on display here, because aside from a self-conscious setup that playfully pokes fun at Mills' obsessive behavior, Taken 2 is a particularly transparent attempt to cash in on the success of its predecessor, and it's constructed as a predictable pastiche of contemporary action clichés. The first signs of trouble arise as Besson and Kamen's screenplay fails to muster any kind of excitement or momentum in a bumbling effort to get the family out of their safety zone. The problems snowball once they finally arrive in Istanbul, where the cops apparently don't bat an eye when you start lobbing grenades off of rooftops. Meanwhile, a teen who has failed to get her license after multiple attempts miraculously becomes a seasoned stunt driver capable of evading the entire police force while navigating crowded and winding streets.
Although the first Taken certainly had its fair share of implausibilities, they were easy to overlook thanks to Pierre Morel's energetic direction, as well as Neeson's killer line delivery and desperate, charismatic performance. The human-trafficking angle of the story put every parent's worst nightmare in the context of a brutal action film in which the stakes were clear and time was of the essence, and Morel didn't flinch at showing the lengths a father would go to in order to prevent his daughter from being exploited. Here, Besson and Kamen are content to deliver your average revenge flick served up in an exotic setting, while Megaton falls back on spasmodic camera movements and ADD editing to give the action sequences a sense of urgency. The all-around lack of inspiration extends to the soundtrack as well, as a pair of songs lifted from Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive are lazily recycled in two of the movie's key scenes.
Sometimes filmmakers need to gracefully accept the good fortune of a surprise hit when it happens, and leave well enough alone when pressured by the studios to deliver a sequel. By offering a follow-up that's predictable, uninspired, and completely lackluster, Megaton, Besson, and Kamen succeed at nothing more than cynically enticing action fans into parting with their hard-earned cash at the box office, eroding their good will in the process. Perhaps it would have been easy to forgive these shortcomings had Taken 2 veered into so-bad-it's-good territory, but as it stands this is one sequel that should be "Taken 2" the dumpster behind the theater, and tossed in with the rest of the rotting leftovers.