In “Taken 2,” Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson, “Taken”) and his family are taken. Mills shoots a bunch of people and saves his family. That’s not a synopsis of the plot — that is the plot. Roll credits.

Taken 2

At Quality 16 and Rave
Twentieth Century Fox

Liam Neeson is not by any stretch of the imagination a bad actor, but this script does everything in its power to make him look like a hack. At one point, his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, “Lost”) asks him, “What are you going to do?” He gravely replies, “What I do best.” Laughter was not the intended effect of this line, but the theater rang with it. As thoughtful and deliberate as the man is, Neeson’s talent is compromised of delivering lines that stray from epically trite to downright ridiculous.

Grace, as Kim, is as emotive and charming (read: sexy) as ever, but something in the way she portrays her fear bullies our suspension of disbelief into near-rupture. The shallowness and motivation of the villain, Murad Krasniqi, (Rade Serbedzija, “Batman Begins”) also damage the credibility of the storyline. His compulsion, revenge over the murder of his son (who, before being killed by Mills in “Taken,” had committed serial child-enslavement, rape, torture and murder), seems oddly resolute. Perhaps it is ignorant to presume anything, but one would think the bond between a father and son might end somewhere short of condoning child sex trafficking.

“Taken 2” does some unsubtle footwork to persuade the audience that its villain is deserving of death. We’ve had enough of male villains putting their violent-threat-whispering mouths uncomfortably close to the necks of their female hostages. That expositive proof-of-evil is so tired, it feels like Hollywood paternalism. But this movie is not entirely without feminist flair: When Bryan tells Kim to get herself to the American Embassy, she begs instead to be brought into the mortally dangerous conflict to help save her parents – and Bryan, needing her help badly, relents.

Although Bryan’s wife Lenore (Famke Janssen, “X-Men”) and Serbedzija do fine jobs in their respective roles of absolute helplessness and absolute evil, there is something missing in their chemistry that keeps the audience from fearing for the wife’s life. Maybe we never believe harm will come to her, or maybe we simply don’t care about her, but whatever it is, the apathy removes most of the suspense from the hostage situation and renders about a half of the movie boring.

Lastly, this movie commits the unforgivable sin of sneaking its title into the protagonist’s dialogue. As soon as the audience hears Neeson say, “Kim, your mother and I are going to be taken,” everyone knows, instinctually, that it’s time to sneak out of the theater and find a better movie. Ultimately, though Neeson, Janssen, Grace and Serbedzija aren’t lacking as actors, the director, Olivier Megaton, and the screenwriters, Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, manage to make the cast look foolish.

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