Taken was a nice trashy surprise when it debuted in 2008. It was the movie that introduced the world to the concept of Liam Neeson as an unstoppable badass. By pitting the brooding and brutal new action star version of the actor against the international sex slave industry, the villains were by association so nonredeemable that he could take dozens of them out in an absurdly vicious manner without losing an ounce of audience sympathy. Neeson was a killing machine on par with any 80s slasher icon, but with glorious righteousness on his side, so that was a good thing. According to the infinitely more ludicrous Taken 2, he killed so many people that they had to be airlifted back home where a father (Rade Serbedzija, Boris The Blade from Snatch) of some of the traffickers was forced to bury his son and others in a mass grave. He wants revenge and he’s going to get it by taking Neeson’s ex-wife and daughter. Big mistake. Clearly this guy didn’t see the first movie.
And thus begins Taken 2, one of those action sequels that follows the deliberately “bigger is better” approach, which inevitably means the less deliberate “stupider is better” approach is also in play. The franchise comes from the Luc Besson Eurotrash action movie factory that specializes in product that takes American B-movie action concepts and while trying to top them, exaggerating the main qualities of the genre almost to the level to parody. While the first Taken was a dirty revenge movie with a moral compass skewed beyond anything expected from Hollywood, the sequel is a more sanitized action feature that’s pleasures appeal primarily to those who love laughing themselves silly at the most ridiculous action fluff. Both are guilty pleasures, but this one is a little more difficult to defend. It’s not really a good movie in a traditional sense, yet it is far from boring and without trying has become the funniest action movie of the year.
The unintended laughs start immediately following the vengeance set up. At this point, the audience is asked to somehow take Neeson and his clan seriously. Ex-wife Famke Janssen appears to have fallen back in love with Neeson after he killed all those guys last time (a classic aphrodisiac), while his daughter Maggie Grace somehow thinks it’s ok to complain that father is overprotective after he saved her from a life as a sex slave in only 72 hours one short year ago (talk about ungrateful!). Co-writer Besson, director Olivier Megaton and co. actually think that the audience will be just as interested in side plots about Grace getting a driver’s license and Neeson meeting her new boyfriend as if we could consider the killing machine something resembling a human being. It’s pretty funny stuff with ludicrous dialogue, but nothing compared to the silliness that happens when the action kicks off. Neeson is assigned to do something or other in Istanbul (it’s really not important) and then mommy and daughter make a surprise visit for a little R&R. It seems like the perfect time for Neeson and Janssen to get that loving going again, but then Serbedzija shows up to kidnap the entire family. He gets mom and dad, but not before Neeson can make the call to his daughter to announce they are going to be “taken” for the sake of the trailer.
Neeson is then tied to a rusty pipe in a burned out building while his ex wife is hung upside down in chains in front of him. Her throat is cut slightly so that within half and hour of being inverted, she will die. The bad guy wants Neeson to watch, but somehow I don’t think that’s going to work, do you? Within seconds of being left alone (why don’t villains ever watch or even research the superpowered heroes once they’ve been caught?) Neeson is on the phone with his daughter and somehow talks her through tracking him down using only a map, a piece of string, a pen, and three hand grenades set off in public. Yes, I’m serious. It’s that kind of movie.
There may have been logic leaps in the first Taken, but nothing compared to this. Taken 2 takes place in bad B-movie land. A magical place where fireworks go off if you have a nice moment with your daughter, revenge-fueled supervillains sit quietly in abandoned rooms doing nothing while their masterplan is executed, necks can be snapped without breaking a sweat, grenades exploding in major cities never draws attention from the authorities, vans unexpectedly explode when dragged by trains, and henchmen exchange dialogue like, “I shot some guy.” It’s moronic action trash, but so, so funny if you have a sweet tooth for that sort of thing.
Neeson is again quite entertaining as the ex-CIA killing machine. He’s not quite as frighteningly driven as last time, but he at least seems to be the one person on screen aware of the laughs that will come from this sort of hogwash. Everyone else in the cast just plays a genre stereotype with a straight face and director Olivier Megaton shoots things completely seriously. Someone could have done this exact screenplay as pure comedy, but it wouldn’t be nearly as amusing as seeing actors earnestly attempt to pull of the most ridiculous scenes. As the movie wraps up, the action pay-off is a little ho-hum and thankfully that’s completely made up for by a callback coda that brings back the driver’s license/boyfriend subplots (as if the audience could possibly care after the dozens of people killed to get to that point), which ends the film on a big belly laugh. Like I said, judged on any conventional level this sequel is a complete disaster that loses any sense of edge or genuine dramatic thrill from the original. However, as a big explosive cartoon comedy of a bad action movie clichés, it’s a real treat. This one is all about expectations people. Expect anything other than barrel-scraping trash and you’ll be disappointed. Go in looking for that and to have nothing more than the emptiest of fun, and prepare to laugh more in a theater than you have all year.