Daddy Knows Best
Warning: This review discusses some aspects of the plot.
Pierre Morel’s Taken, a honking great allegory exploring the anxiety of the humble paterfamilias struggling to protect his daughter’s flower from predatory males, was a sleeper hit. Audiences enjoyed its brutal simplicity: Liam Neeson’s CIA agent methodically murdering the men responsible for his little girl’s kidnap, while racing to save her from a career in forced prostitution. It was lean, mean and to the point. Olivier Megaton’s sequel is just as utilitarian, scenes don’t last a second longer than they have to, but it’s an altogether more strained affair: a hack job directed with a lazy eye and a tin ear for English dialogue. Luc Besson has his excuses but long-term collaborator and Bronx boy Robert Mark Kamen should take early retirement.
Conscious that the familial element, thought to be popular with American audiences (though surely they’re as sick of it as we are by now), drove the original story, Besson and Kamen up the ante in the follow-up, turning it into a full-on family restoration exercise: a fat slice of tarte aux pommes. The result is a violent riff on The Parent Trap, in which shapely daughter Kim, the original maguffin, whom Megaton gets into a bikini for some pool side panting, plays cupid, convincing her freshly abandoned mother to accept an offer from Dad to spend a few days in Istanbul. With the interloper from the original movie safely off the scene, “Stuart turned out to be a real bastard”, surely nothing can stand in the way of Neeson getting a foothold in his ex-wife and their biological by-product, but Rade Serbedzija’s Albanian gangster, a few sons light following Neeson’s original rampage, has other ideas. What’s left of his brood get promptly dispatched to capture Liam’s fam and ruin their bonding session.
We’re asked to believe that the crisis that follows can only expedite Kim’s reunification plans, after all what could be better than a family in extremis, strengthening old bonds? Here, Besson flunks human nature, ignoring the fact that Neeson is a magnet for threats to the lives of his nearest and dearest. Were I his wife and daughter, I’d surely want to be as far from him as humanly possible. Perhaps even fake my death. Similarly, Serbedzija’s grievance seems extraordinary given his progeny’s involvement in sex trafficking and child murder. “I don’t care” he tells Neeson, having heard the bound agent offer that uncomfortable truth in mitigation, and that’s about as much soul searching as you get in this perfunctory daisy-chain of rote sequences, masquerading as thrills.
No one dragging their dead flesh to this sequel will be expecting a psychological matrix of fiendish complexity, but there was surely an expectation that the new instalment would retain the sober slaughter that gave the first its edge. Unfortunately Taken 2 is a blunt instrument. Buoyed by the first film’s financial success, the series’ continental producers have adopted the sham wisdom of their Hollywood counterparts, sanitising their product in a bid to achieve a commercially desirable teen friendly rating. Don’t they know kids like viscera and violence? Why did they imagine the original film was a hit?
Consequently the best bits of this movie lie in half-millimetre strips on the cutting room floor. Megaton shoots action like you take video on a home camcorder; it’s ugly and ramshackle. The camerawork is point and click. Add an editor whose instructions are to excise moments of impact – bullet hits, neck breaks, punches – the equivalent of lopping a letter off the end of each word, and you have a bloodless action movie, in which the camera operator looks to be a half second behind the actors; it’s as if he had no idea what they were going to do. As he struggles to stay with them, so do we, but you don’t go to a Liam Neeson movie to make that kind of effort.
Though ill-conceived and mechanically executed, Taken 2 can boast mirthful moments, some of them intentional. Early scenes, with the gruff and humourless father suspiciously eyeing his daughter’s new boyfriend (something for them to talk about that isn’t kidnap and prostitution) provide light relief, while later efforts to invert the original plot, with Neeson remotely weaponising the fruit of his loins in a bid to free himself, look to have been written in a crack den. “Be casual” grumbles Neeson, having instructed his daughter to pack a gun and a couple of grenades, before heading into the city on a one woman rescue mission. Christmas dinner won’t be boring this year.