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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.

**

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