Look, nobody’s saying that “Taken,” in which Liam Neeson flexed previously unknown action-star muscles to rescue his daughter from flesh-traders, was some kind of masterpiece. But it worked. If I may quote myself: “It’s a delightfully dizzying balm to soothe the pain inflicted by recent action films that have failed to deliver. It subscribes to the less-talk-more-rock school of thought, intentionally free of nuance but overbrimming with relentless, efficient, energetic mayhem.” Given the usual trend with sequels, you’d expect “Taken 2” to be even bigger, louder, and shallower. And yet it’s just shallower. Directed by the hilariously fake-named Olivier Megaton (“Transporter 3,” “Colombiana”), the follow-up has less action, less energy, less Liam Neeson awesomeness — in other words less of everything that people liked about the first one. What is this, some kind of perverse anti-entertainment stunt?
A “Taken” sequel isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Neeson’s character, ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills, had to kill a lot of bad guys to save Kim (Maggie Grace), so it’s logical that those bad guys’ associates might want revenge. And so it is that a cold Albanian villain named Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija), father of the dude Mills electrocuted, targets Mills, Kim, and Mills’ ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), while the three are in Istanbul.
This should be a thrilling, if repetitive, continuation of what happened last time. But it’s not. We’ve already seen how far Mills will go to save his family (i.e., as far as he has to), and “Taken 2” doesn’t make him stretch. The stakes aren’t any higher just because his ex-wife is involved, and he’s not required to do anything he hasn’t done before.
The larger problem is simply a lack of good action. Fights are bumblingly choreographed and chaotically edited. Apart from one nifty Boy Scout trick involving the speed of sound and map triangulation (which is more exciting than it sounds), the story offers no compelling new angles, neither in the espionage department nor the violence department. The movie feels like 90 minutes of Neeson and Grace running around Istanbul firing guns and yelling, and occasionally chucking grenades (which is less exciting than it sounds). Near the end, Mills tells Krasniqi, “I’m tired of all this,” and you can hear the audience thinking: Yeah, me too.
C- (1 hr., 31 min.; )