Hollywood’s pattern of what constitutes success baffles me, perhaps because as time goes on, I see there is no real pattern. It can turn artists into mechanical hacks, side players into megawatt stars, and 57-year-old, deeply-respected Irish theater actors into bona-fide action stars. It’s odd. It’s unpredictable. And it’s the path of Liam Neeson, who with 2009’s “Taken”, made a leap into an area both widely known to us and totally foreign to him: action-oriented mediocrity.
It continues with “Taken 2”. That goes without saying. It’s a retread of an already-familiar formula, whose every beat feels like it was diagrammed on a napkin and whose every line seems to have been composed by a second-grade ‘learn-to-type’ computer game. We’re talking about a film that recycles the vast majority of its soundtrack from last year’s (much better, much cooler) “Drive”. We’re talking about a film whose major emotional arc is the ability of a teenage girl to pass her driver’s test. We’re talking about the most shameless retread of a piece of popular action cinema since, Jesus, 1990’s “Die Hard: Die Harder”. These are grave words, serious words.
Neeson returns as pumped-up ex-assassin Bryan Mills, once again. You may recall that in the prior film, his teenage daughter was abducted by men looking to make her a valuable component of the European sex trade. He killed them and got her back. What ingenious formula has “Taken 2” devised to reunite these three figures back together? Well: the father of a guy that Bryan killed wants revenge and so abducts him and his wife, leaving his daughter to rescue them! The tenacity, the originality! It’s like last time, but different!
Director Olivier Megaton, of such auspicious fare as “Colombiana” and “Transporter 3”, continues his hot-streak of taking promising genre elements and diluting them to the most obvious, inoffensive results possible. The action of “Taken 2” literally consists of driving cars at an above-average speed, with the occasional close turn and the rare instance of the passengers exiting the vehicle to poorly fire a weak-sounding handgun. I believe the most inventive moment of the film is where the villains hang the protagonist’s wife upside down as a form of torture. And even still, it’s a painful moment to watch as a person, and a shoddily executed moment from a technical angle.
Liam Neeson, man. As much as I feel his recent taste for actioners have squandered his talents as an actor, I’ve still rooted through and through for his moments of triumph. Early this year, with “The Grey”, he revealed new emotional depths even as he pressed & fought through packs of wolves. But he’s firmly on auto-pilot here, with about 95% of his energy being devoted to making his lines sound authoritative and urgent. Taken as an audio-only recording, perhaps then “Taken 2” would adopt a measure of drama, of suspense.
I’m a person who seeks for fairness in all realms of life, and I don’t even mean this in a hyper-liberal, ‘yuppie’-esque context. Rather, in the sense that as a person, if I am to put effort into something, I expect it back. Thus, it stands to reason that if people are to try to engage me on the laziest terms possible, I’ll reject it. Flatly. I saw Taken 2 on October 5 and, 36 days later, after painstakingly adding sentence after sentence, am just now completing this review. There’s things in this world and this life that are worth talking about, thinking about, remembering a mere five minutes after it’s all said and done. “Taken 2” is not one of those things. D-