In nature, lightning can strike the same place twice. In the movies, it almost never happens.
So, as good as Liam Neeson was in “Taken,” as good as he often is in “Taken 2,” the sequel – about the family of all those Albanians he killed in “Taken” taking their revenge – is an often-silly movie where the strain to stay credulous shows.
Neeson’s retired secret agent, Bryan Mills, is being hunted by the few Albanians left after he massacred most of the Albanian mob for kidnapping his daughter Kim [Maggie Grace] (Maggie Grace) the first time around. So what does he do? He invites Kim and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) along with him on a trip to Istanbul.
What could go wrong?
Hard return Soft return
He doesn’t know that a Muslim mobster [Rade Serbedzija] (name in brackets here) has sworn he will have his “justice.” But Bryan is onto them in a flash. Next thing you know, he’s giving his wife the same lecture he gave Kim, once upon a time in France: “I need you to FOCUS.”
They’re both nabbed. He warns his daughter with one last cellphone call. She, too, has to “FOCUS.” (Again.)
Then, tied up and hooded, they’re whisked off somewhere as Bryan counts the seconds between turns, the sounds he hears passing, working out where they might be.
MacGyver has nothing on this dude.
The villain smacks his lips and makes speeches. In English. The few remaining Albanian mobsters all speak English.
“Your death weeel not be queeeck,” he hisses. “It weeeel not be pleasant!”
Neither weeel yours, pal.
Producer/co-writer Luc Besson once gave us “The Professional,” a movie about a hitman savant, a “cleaner” (Jean Reno) whose arrival somewhere prompted bad guys to say, “Somebody’s coming. Somebody SERIOUS.”
Nobody’s more serious than Neeson in this part. The hulking ex-boxer lumbers through Istanbul’s narrow streets, shouts at his driver’s test-flunking daughter (“Faster!”) when they wind up in a stolen cab, takes a beating and delivers one, too.
But Besson, who lets Olivier Megaton direct these films, has run out of gags and ways to put characters into and out of jeopardy. “Taken 2” defies logic and credibility as it puts its characters in harm’s way and refuses to take the easy, logical way out.
And hilariously, our villain hears explosions, shots fired, and he always says the same thing: “Go und zee what happened.”
Besson’s Islamophobia is an amusing subtext to all this. Here his characters are in perhaps the most beautiful and most secular city in the Middle East, and he never loses an opportunity to let us hear Muslim calls to prayer, suggest a conspiracy between Muslim mobsters and Muslim cops, or to have Bryan or his family shoot, smash, steal or set off grenades in scenic Istanbul.
It’s as propulsive and kinetic as the original “Taken,” all chases and shootouts and brawls and narrow escapes. But this sequel’s shortcomings make us feel like the ones who’ve been taken.