Skip to main content

When a dog has a bone the last thing you want to do is take it from him.


Taken 2
(2012)

Liam Neeson’s creepily-obsessive, death-dealing, ex-CIA dad returns in a sequel just as horribly written as the first, but bereft of Pierre Morel’s crisp action staging. Replacing him is the ludicrously surnamed Olivier Megaton, who previously fouled up Transporter 3 (following Louis Letterier’s agreeably OTT second installment).

Megaton cuts the action scenes for maximum shakycam confusion, with the fight sequences in particular suffering. On the plus side, the film is short (even in its extended form) and there’s no pretence at plot twists or turns. This is a straightforward revenge/capture/escape affair; as it is, each new scene piles on the illogicality of the premise so you don’t want the scriptwriters confusing themselves further.

The most inventive sequence has Neeson instructing blubby daughter Kim (Maggie Grace; pushing 30, still learning to drive and victim of the most disturbing case of fatherly overprotectiveness seen in many a year) in how to find the location where he and ex-wife Famke Janssen are held captive (this time he’s taken; see the twist there?) It’s still not up to all that much, thanks to the Megaton bomb, however. Anyone recalling Janssen’s thigh manoeuvres in Goldeneye will be disappointed to see her consigned to such a nothing part, but I guess she has to eat. I had a vague hope that Grace would need to become a kick-ass action heroine, going the whole hog and rescuing daddy, but alas she continues in shrieking mode throughout.

The popularity of Taken was slightly mystifying, other than it fulfilled a Charles Bronson-esque wish-fulfillment fantasy. Neeson’s Bryan Mills had carte blanche to wipe out those dirty foreign sex-traffickers; whether his rage was actually borne of the thought that someone else might do to daddy’s little girl what he wished to do himself is open to inferred subtext. Luc Besson is certainly no stranger to devising scenarios suggestive of inappropriate relationships between men and girls (Leon).

Notably, the original film opened in the US later than the UK, where it did little business and received dismissive reviews (rightly so); it only developed a following on DVD. I’m unsure if this means we need American audiences to define our tastes or not…

What gets me is that I could half believe the whole thing is a huge joke; Taken 2 repeats, almost note-for-note (well, there’s no horse, but there is a hugely important driving lesson), Bryan’s emotionally ill-equipped fumbling for connection with Kim. And it’s written and performed with such incompetence you do wonder if they’re gently taking the piss out of the viewer. In particular, the dialogue is astoundingly tin-eared yet all-the-more mirthful for that (Bryan’s undaunted desire to get Kim to read a guide book on Istanbul is played so straight you’d hope Neeson was verging on corpsing at any moment).

Neeson is horrified that his daughter has a boyfriend, so tracks him down. He looks a bit weasely (although he appears not to be pushing Grace into doing the nasty, no doubt sensitive to her traumatic experience in being nearly proffered to unsavoury un-Americans for their delectation) but is all-but forgotten about for the rest of the film. I’m hoping he’ll be revealed as a covert Albanian super-villain in Taken 3. It’s inevitable that the only male in Kim’s life must be her father.

Neeson stumbles through the framing scenes like a blind man, but it’s unclear if he plain cannot believe the quality of the script or if this is a carefully-calibrated performance that testifies to Bryan’s unease outside of his comfort zone of eye-gauging and neck-breaking. Either way, Neeson seems borderline comatose when he isn’t bringing pain. His scenes with his best buddies show no effort on the part of the writers, unless they are cleverly drawing attention to the banality of such interludes and their essential irrelevance, other than to cover the base of “the protagonist has pals”. Leland Orser, in particular, deserves better material. And D.B. Sweeney is now so far off anyone’s radar that he amasses about a minute of screen time. There’s a moment at the end where Brian’s cracking a laugh and he’s not fooling anyone. But who knows, perhaps this is the genius of Luc Besson at work? Unintentionally funny shit is better than straight-out tedious shit.

If I were to discover that Besson and Kamen are huge fans of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, it would at least go some way to confirm that there were humorous intentions at the heart of Bryan Miller’s struggles. As with Peter Falk’s character in that film, the choice of Albanians as the villains is almost charming in its arbitrary xenophobia. Who could possibly be offended at making Albanians villains, least of all Albanians themselves? After all no one knows anything about them. Except, on the basis of the Takens, that they have a penchant for robbing the US of its virginal daughters and an unquenchable loyalty to their kin. 

There might have been some potential in the latter plot point, as Rade Serbedzija’s doting father doesn’t care what his son did to deserve Bryan’s wrath; he was his son! But Serbedzija’s character is so irredeemably evil there is no room for discussion on the rights and wrongs of Mill’s measures. Particularly when the uber-Albanian promises that all manner of unspeakable treatment awaits Kim. Serbedzija has become somewhat ubiquitous, popping up all over the place in supporting roles (he was an Eastern European villain in 24 at one point, inevitably), and good as he always is there’s nothing he can do with this part.

In terms of giving the audience what they want, possibly it wasn’t the best idea of Besson and co-writer Robert Mark Kamen (between them responsible for the likes of Tranporters, District 13s, Taxis, Lockout and Colombiana) to lock up Bryan for the first 50 minutes. If you do, his vengeance better be pretty damn good when he breaks loose. Which it isn’t.

And, while one would be foolish to expect much in the way of plot logic in a film like this, it’s nevertheless worth noting that Taken 2 consistently beggars belief. Kim throws grenades randomly, in the middle of a bustling city, to attract her father’s attention. A high-speed chase – with learner Kim driving, of course - to the US Embassy is bizarrely free of consequence (not least the time it takes the fully-armed guards outside to reach Bryan and Kim once they have broken in – we never actually see them taken into custody). Bryan’s climactic “big fight” is with a tubby Albanian wearing a shell suit, who stands a good foot shorter than Neeson. Perhaps Megaton’s only option was to render the fight incomprehensible.

So, roll on Taken 3. Laughter is good for the soul.

**

Popular posts from this blog

What’s so bad about being small? You’re not going to be small forever.

Innerspace (1987) There’s no doubt that Innerspace is a flawed movie. Joe Dante finds himself pulling in different directions, his instincts for comic subversion tempered by the need to play the romance plot straight. He tacitly acknowledges this on the DVD commentary for the film, where he notes Pauline Kael’s criticism that he was attempting to make a mainstream movie; and he was. But, as ever with Dante, it never quite turns out that way. Whereas his kids’ movies treat their protagonists earnestly, this doesn’t come so naturally with adults. I’m a bona fide devotee of Innerspace , but I can’t help but be conscious of its problems. For the most part Dante papers over the cracks; the movie hits certain keynotes of standard Hollywood prescription scripting. But his sensibility inevitably suffuses it. That, and human cartoon Martin Short (an ideal “leading man” for the director) ensure what is, at first glance just another “ Steven Spielberg Presents ” sci-fi/fantas

The Illumi-what-i?

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) (SPOILERS) In which Sam Raimi proves that he can stand proudly with the best – or worst – of them as a good little foot soldier of the woke apocalypse. You’d expect the wilfully anarchic – and Republican – Raimi to choke on the woke, but instead, he’s sucked it up, grinned and bore it. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is so slavishly a production-line Marvel movie, both in plotting and character, and in nu-Feige progressive sensibilities, there was no chance of Sam staggering out from beneath its suffocating demands with anything more than a few scraps of stylistic flourish intact.

This risotto is shmackin’, dude.

Stranger Things Season 4: Part I (SPOILERS) I haven’t had cause, or the urge, to revisit earlier seasons of Stranger Things , but I’m fairly certain my (relatively) positive takes on the first two sequel seasons would adjust down somewhat if I did (a Soviet base under Hawkins? DUMB soft disclosure or not, it’s pretty dumb). In my Season Three review, I called the show “ Netflix’s best-packaged junk food. It knows not to outstay its welcome, doesn’t cause bloat and is disposable in mostly good ways ” I fairly certain the Duffer’s weren’t reading, but it’s as if they decided, as a rebuke, that bloat was the only way to go for Season Four. Hence episodes approaching (or exceeding) twice the standard length. So while the other points – that it wouldn’t stray from its cosy identity and seasons tend to merge in the memory – hold fast, you can feel the ambition of an expansive canvas faltering at the hurdle of Stranger Things ’ essential, curated, nostalgia-appeal inconsequentiality.

Ziggy smokes a lot of weed.

Moonfall (2022) (SPOILERS) For a while there, it looked as if Moonfall , the latest and least-welcomed – so it seems – piece of apocalyptic programming from Roland Emmerich, might be sending mixed messages. Fortunately, we need not have feared, as it turns out to be the same pedigree of disaster porn we’ve come to expect from the director, one of the Elite’s most dutiful mass-entertainment stooges, even if his lustre has rather dimmed since the glory days of 2012.

Whacking. I'm hell at whacking.

Witness (1985) (SPOILERS) Witness saw the advent of a relatively brief period – just over half a decade –during which Harrison Ford was willing to use his star power in an attempt to branch out. The results were mixed, and abruptly concluded when his typically too late to go where Daniel Day Lewis, Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro had gone before (with at bare minimum Oscar-nominated results) – but not “ full retard ” – ended in derision with Regarding Henry . He retreated to the world of Tom Clancy, and it’s the point where his cachet began to crumble. There had always been a stolid quality beneath even his more colourful characters, but now it came to the fore. You can see something of that as John Book in Witness – despite his sole Oscar nom, it might be one of Ford’s least interesting performances of the 80s – but it scarcely matters, or that the screenplay (which won) is by turns nostalgic, reactionary, wistful and formulaic, as director Peter Weir, in his Hollywood debu

Are you telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor?

The Exorcist (1973) (SPOILERS) Vast swathes have been written on The Exorcist , duly reflective of its cultural impact. In a significant respect, it’s the first blockbuster – forget Jaws – and also the first of a new kind of special-effects movie. It provoked controversy across all levels of the socio-political spectrum, for explicit content and religious content, both hailed and denounced for the same. William Friedkin, director of William Peter Blatty’s screenplay based on Blatty’s 1971 novel, would have us believe The Exorcist is “ a film about the mystery of faith ”, but it’s evidently much more – and less – than that. There’s a strong argument to be made that movies having the kind of seismic shock on the landscape this one did aren’t simply designed to provoke rumination (or exultation); they’re there to profoundly influence society, even if largely by osmosis, and when one looks at this picture’s architects, such an assessment only gains in credibility.

Is this supposed to be me? It’s grotesque.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022) (SPOILERS) I didn’t hold out much hope for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent being more than moderately tolerable. Not so much because its relatively untested director and his co-writer are mostly known in the TV sphere (and not so much for anything anyone is raving about). Although, it has to be admitted, the finished movie flourishes a degree of digital flatness typical of small-screen productions (it’s fine, but nothing more). Rather, due to the already over-tapped meta-strain of celebs showing they’re good sports about themselves. When Spike Jonze did it with John Malkovich, it was weird and different. By the time we had JCVD , not so much. And both of them are pre-dated by Arnie in Last Action Hero (“ You brought me nothing but pain ” he is told by Jack Slater). Plus, it isn’t as if Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten have much in the way of an angle on Nic; the movie’s basically there to glorify “him”, give or take a few foibles, do

That, my lad, was a dragon.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) (SPOILERS) It’s alarming how quickly Peter Jackson sabotaged all the goodwill he amassed in the wake of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. A guy who started out directing deliciously deranged homemade horror movies ended up taking home the Oscar for a fantasy movie, of all genres. And then he blew it. He went from a filmmaker whose naysayers were the exception to one whose remaining cheerleaders are considered slightly maladjusted. The Desolation of Smaug recovers some of the territory Jackson has lost over the last decade, but he may be too far-gone to ever regain his crown. Perhaps in years to come The Lord of the Rings trilogy will be seen as an aberration in his filmography. There’s a cartoonishness to the gleeful, twisted anarchy on display in his earlierr work that may be more attuned to the less verimilitudinous aspects of King Kong and The Hobbit s. The exceptions are his female-centric character dramas, Heavenly Creat

Gizmo caca!

Gremlins (1984) I didn’t get to see Gremlins at the cinema. I wanted to, as I had worked myself into a state of great anticipation. There was a six-month gap between its (unseasonal) US release and arrival in the UK, so I had plenty of time to devour clips of cute Gizmo on Film ’84 (the only reason ever to catch Barry Norman was a tantalising glimpse of a much awaited movie, rather than his drab, colourless, reviews) and Gremlins trading cards that came with bubble gum attached (or was it the other way round?). But Gremlins ’ immediate fate for many an eager youngster in Britain was sealed when, after much deliberation, the BBFC granted it a 15 certificate. I had just turned 12, and at that time an attempt to sneak in to see it wouldn’t even have crossed my mind. I’d just have to wait for the video. I didn’t realise it then (because I didn’t know who he was as a filmmaker), but Joe Dante’s irrepressible anarchic wit would have a far stronger effect on me than the un

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.