Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: Taken 2

When I look back at the first Taken, what made it great was that Liam Neeson’s grim no nonsense vibe really fit the character and he had enough physicality left in the tanks to back it up.  The result was a resurgence in his career that saw him recast as the kind of total bad ass one might imagine Jason Bourne would become during his AARP years.  In fact, Neeson’s perceived age enhanced both the role and the film as it legitimized his character’s experience and made you believe that his Bryan Mills could remain three steps ahead of his less cerebral European antagonists.  In Taken 2, Neeson’s Mills is still very sharp (perhaps a little too sharp), but seems to have lost a bit in the physicality department and because of this, the film fails to deliver in the same way its predecessor did.

The plot follows Neeson’s Mills as he finds himself in Istanbul for work with Maggie Grace’s Kim and Famke Janssen’s Lenore in tow.  A group of Algerians led by Rade Serbedzija’s Murad plots to capture and murder Neeson and his family to avenge the deaths of the Algerian sex traffickers from the first film.  It’s not a direct rehash the way The Hangover 2 is to The Hangover, but it is in the same neighborhood.

Nuts and bolts action movies must have strong pacing, expertly framed action scenes, good use of foreground and background visuals, and a handful of defining moments to divert attention from what typically tends to be thin plot lines.  Unfortunately, Taken 2 comes up short nearly across the board.  While part of the blame for this has to be heaped on writer Luc Besson, that the movie lacks the pace and urgency of its predecessor ultimately falls on the shoulders of director Olivier Megaton.  Handed the keys to a property featuring an interesting protagonist with a deep fan base, Megaton fails to weave a taut narrative and he frames the action in a way that robs Neeson’s Mills of his well-established physical credibility.

As for Neeson, the four years he’s spent away from the character looks and feels like fourteen years.  Clearly time has taken its toll.  Neeson does not seem up to the challenge of playing the physically imposing former CIA operative and it seems that Megaton and his creative team amp up the use of unsteady cameras to mask Neeson’s hand-to-hand combat deficiencies.  Another issue I had was the increased focus on Neeson’s skills of detection.  Instead of cool filler between action sequences, these scenes are drawn to the fore and are so overblown that they take matters well beyond the breaking point of the suspension of disbelief.  At one point I felt like I was watching a cross between an episode of CSI and Chris Farley’s Haru from Beverly Hills Ninja.

As for the supporting cast, four years ago Maggie Grace looked and acted like a vibrant fresh-faced young woman, but those qualities are sorely missed in this outing.  For the majority of film, she seems drab and disinterested as she goes through the motions.  Famke Janssen is given a more robust role this time out, but Janssen - never known as a strong performer – does little with the opportunity.  Emotional engagement in her Lenore is paramount to the success of the film as much of the tension is tied to her peril, and thus Janssen’s supremely pedestrian performance truly weakens the film.  Rade Serbedzija as Murad Krasniqu and his band of nameless goons also are culpable for much of what is wrong with this movie, as they never seem to represent a legitimate physical or cerebral threat.  A hero is only as good as his villains are bad, and this is a major factor as to why Neeson’s Mills loses much of his luster.

I really wanted to love this movie.  I was ready for a fast paced riveting narrative with action and chase scenes that would capitalize on the old world aesthetic of Istanbul.  Unfortunately, not only is Taken 2 completely void of the fun and panache of the first film, the action sequences are muted and the logic somewhat flawed.  I wouldn’t recommend that you run out to watch this film, because I can’t envision a scenario where one would walk out of the theater fully satisfied, but as a Netflix movie it has some value.  It’s mildly entertaining and utterly forgettable and probably a reasonable way to pass the time in the comfort of your own home.

Standout Performance: D.B. Sweeney.  Not so much for anything he does in this movie, but because I don’t think I have seen him in anything since The Cutting Edge.  Toe pick!


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