You know what happens in Taken 2, don?t you? The same thing that happened four years ago in Taken, but different. (But the same.) Directed by French tough-stuff Transporter 3 specialist Olivier Megaton, the movie is simultaneously silly, nasty, a lazy festival of stereotypes, and a cleverly made piece of merchandise — i.e., it’s the devil we know. This time the blithely violent revenge thriller takes place in Istanbul, which, like Paris in the original, is infested with evil stubbled Albanian gangsters. And now it’s retired CIA intel pro Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) and his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen) who get taken too. Miraculously, the couple’s singularly hostage-prone daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), avoids captivity, and even proves a worthy bad-guy opponent, primarily through the use of her near-magic iPhone.
By the way, the chief evil stubbled Albanian gangster, Murad Hoxha (Rade Serbedzija, who is Croatian), wants revenge because Bryan killed his son in the previous movie after that son kidnapped Bryan’s daughter to force her into prostitution. Suffice it to say, things do not go well for Murad. Chained up and locked away along with his ex-missus, Bryan, with his very specialized set of skills, nevertheless wriggles free. Then, on the way to rescuing his ex, he alternately beats the crap out of people, shoots the crap out of people, runs the crap over people, and growls the crap out of people.
Anyone who thinks any of the above constitutes a spoiler is not the audience for the phenomenon of the Taken oeuvre, a pair of icy-eyed movies laid over a gooey core of aspirational family bonding. In these films, by sheer dint of will, strategic career planning, and physical training sessions suited to his now 60-year-old chassis, Neeson sets himself the goal of becoming a Harrison Ford-like action hero. And this he does: He’s sturdy, solid, efficient, opaque, and wears a black leather jacket well. Ta-da. He’s an action hero. (Seems like a waste of a career arc to me, but guess who’s the millionaire?) The apex of the star’s work here is when he manages not to betray a giggle when directed to whisper into the phone to the perpetually edge-of-panicked Maggie Grace, ”Your mother and I are going to be taken. Listen to me very carefully.” As Oscar Wilde almost said in The Importance of Being Earnest, to be taken once may be regarded as a misfortune; to be taken twice looks like carelessness. C