Who'd have thunk it? Irish actor Liam Neeson, well capable of subtle dramatic acting, has become an improbable action hero in the paper-thin Taken franchise. Taken 2 is selling plenty popcorn these days, despite it being a shopworn Xerox of the original, which I must admit being rather fond of re-watching ad infinitum when I catch it on cable.
The appeal of the original flick was primal: A dirty tricks CIA intelligence operative with a knack for killing eleven burly men at a time is out to rescue his daughter from a white-slavery racket. Swarthy and nefarious Albanians kidnap unwary Yank tourist girls in Paris, and sell them to the highest bidders in a flesh-and-bones version of a fine wine auction. Evil with a capital E.
But the ethnic nasty boys and their Eurotrash overlords were no match for the hyper-observant, gleefully lethal Neeson, whose savvy with guns, knives, escapability and jiu-jitsu were only equaled by his keen intelligence and unerring intuition. InTaken 2, Neeson's foil is the father of one of the deceased creeps who kidnapped his daughter. Dad is hellbent on bloody revenge at a time when the CIA spook is just trying to vacation in Istanbul with ex-wife and daughter. No fair!
But what was bracing and engaging in the first film feels like been-there/done-that in the sequel. Gone is the shocking revelation that poor little bourgeois lassies should be the victims of heartless Fagins, in its place a series of improbable chase sequences, gunfights and unlikely escapes that defy all logic and imagination. Neeson is not just a killer op, he is devilishly lucky, avoiding point-blank bullets that have no reason for missing except that he's our hero.
Neeson is still appealing as an Irish John Wayne, given to pithy monosyllables and gritty tough-talk, but the plot movement is tensionless compared to the original. We know he's going to come out clean despite the odds stacked against him, so the only interest is in seeing the new crew of murderous Albanian goons go down in copious pools of their own hemoglobin. Yecch and hooray!
One can't blame the studios for phoning in this pale remake — it's already made nearly $75M in its first week. Never underestimate the faith of the movie-going public to expect great things from humble sources. This time, however, their needs may remain quite unfulfilled.