The family drama in Taken 2 is more appealing than the action.
It’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Taken 2 telegraphs its ending from jump street. That means what happens between the start and the climax needs to be all the more compelling. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. Instead, Luc Besson and co-scribe Robert Mark Kamen, who also concocted the original edition, pile on the absurdity and mistake it for innovation.
In a nutshell – a very small nutshell, say a pistachio shell to be precise – super agent and bodyguard Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson, The Dark Knight Rises) finds himself in an enviable position. His ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen, X-Men), is having marital problems with her current husband. Righteous. The door to reconciliation is open a wee crack.
And his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn), is struggling to master the fine art of juggling life. In her case, that means hunkering down and learning how to drive in order to finally earn her driver’s license while simultaneously dipping her toes in the pool of love with some scruffy kid who, reasonably so, finds Bryan intimidating as all get out.
Bryan makes an offer neither Lenore nor Kim can refuse; they meet him in Istanbul for a little getaway after his sheik bodyguard duties are complete.
Istanbul’s a great, great city. The thought of Neeson kicking buttocks in the sprawling exotica of that ancient city, as promised in the trailer, is as enticing as the old market’s seemingly limitless offerings.
But Besson and Kamen blow it with their screenplay; it’s competently directed by Olivier Megaton (Colombiana) but it’s nowhere near the stylistic accomplishment of Besson-helmed fare like La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element. The manic, perpetual energy is there, but the joie de vivre those earlier films exhibit, in their over-the-top ways, is absent.
Put right smack dab in the heart of Old Town Istanbul, with landmarks such as Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque figuring prominently (both home to some astonishing historical artifacts and architecture), a much more intriguing story could’ve been spun.
Instead, this is a revenge flick at its most base. All it involves is a cranky old Albanian, Murad Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija, In the Land of Blood and Honey), seeking vengeance for the death of his son at Bryan’s hands (as documented in Taken). It doesn’t matter to him his son was a creepy, vile, disgusting sex slave trafficker. He was simply taking after the old man. Murad has other kids at home, still alive and breathing, but he wants to bring Bryan, Lenore, and Kim back to Albania to them a lesson but good.
Remember that need for something compelling between the telegraphed ending at the start and the reality of said telegraphed ending at the conclusion? It goes up in a tiny, faint wisp of smoke unworthy of a hookah.
All That You Can’t Leave Behind
While Taken 2 doesn’t take advantage of Istanbul’s mystique and multi-cultural atmosphere, it does showcase the teeming streets. To quote Neeson himself, as Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins, “Always mind your surroundings.”
And that Bryan does.
To an absurd level that would leave Sherlock Holmes gobsmacked.
Let’s just say it involves Kim throwing grenades around while running across the rooftops of ol’ Istanbul. Throw in a map and a shoestring and those are all the weapons Bryan’s super senses need to divine his whereabouts after being hoodwinked.
As for Kim, she’s got the luck of the Irish about her, managing to find an outfit that fits her perfectly – blouse, shoes, and blue jeans – in a hotel staff locker room. Even this guy knows women and blue jeans are not a couple easily made. In Taken, Kim tried to prove her travel mettle by following U2 around during their European tour. Instead, she was abducted by that sex slave slime. While she missed a great concert at Ataturk Olimpiyat Stadi, in the outskirts of Istanbul, it’s nice to see she’s gaining a lot of moxie.
There are some great, crazy ideas, perfectly in keeping with Besson’s oeuvre, in those action scenes, but they’re unconvincing and lack the fun (even while being laughable) and spunk to make the lack of conviction behind them forgivable.