"Taken 2" so stupid it's almost fun but bungles action

Taken 2 (2012)
91 min., rated PG-13.

Ludicrousness in a thriller is fine, provided that it's fun and thrilling, but "Taken 2" pushes ludicrousness into unbelievable stupidity to the breaking point. An unnecessary sequelmore like rehashto 2009's fun, badass guilty-pleasure "Taken," this one is just more of the same, but so loony and ridiculous that you'd expect it to be more fun than it really is. Sure, its predecessor had implausibilities, but compared to this go-round, that one was logically airtight. It might even be funnier than Adam Sandler's dopey comedy "That's My Boy" from the summer.

If you've seen the first movie, you know that Albanian thugs were kidnapping girls and selling them as sex slaves. This time, crime boss Murad (Rade Serbedzija), the father of deceased baddie Marco (who was electrocuted), is out to avenge his son's death. (Sex traffickers are people, too!) In Los Angeles, ex-CIA agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is still overprotective of his 19-year-old daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), but if your daughter was kidnapped once, wouldn't you be too? Now, he has a GPS installed in her cell phone, so he can just show up at her boyfriend's place. When leaving on business to Istanbul, Bryan invites Kim and his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), to join him on a vacation in the Turkish city. Before you can say "here we go again," Bryan calls up his daughter (alone at the pool), while he's held at gunpoint by Murad's brown henchmen, to warn her that he and her mother are about to be taken. 

As lazy and perfunctory as a sequel can get, "Taken 2" is such a shameless cash-grab that it seems as if returning writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen took the original template, put it through a computer that changed a few things, slapped on the number 2, and saw it ready for release. With the film being more obligatory than truly tense and gripping, we can just see the wheels turning. Though both Bryan and Lenore have now been taken and Kim has to come to their rescue, the stakes aren't so high because we know Bryan will get them out of it. Also, Kim has put off taking her driver's test, so it's telegraphed that she will have to be her father's getaway driver at some point.

Replacing the original's Pierre Morel, director Olivier Megaton (2011's "Columbiana") could have just made more of the same "See Dirty Liam Kick Ass" fodder, but he's clearly not cut out for directing taut, exhilarating action. There's nary a competently edited sequence that is extraordinarily exciting or an edit that lasts longer than one second; the fisticuff combat and car chases are just rendered as dull, choppy, and incomprehensible kineticism. Strangely enough, the filmmakers can show Lenore in torturous, "Hostel"-lite positions within the PG-13 parameters, but very little of the awesome brutality and bone-crunching sound effects from 2009 are present here.

Neeson is spritely enough in reprising his role but has nothing more to add. Grace curbs all of the 11-year-old antics and overjoyous Daddy, you bought me a pony! running from the first film, and this time gets to hop across rooftops like Sonic the Hedgehog. Poor Janssen spends most of the film with her head bagged and her body uncomfortably chained up. Luckily, the actors admirably keep dead-straight faces for most of the silly dialogue they're made to deliver, like when Bryan calls up his friend on the putting green to warn the American embassy not to shoot them.

The most unintentionally funny sequence, nearly playing as a spoof, has Bryan giving directions to Lenore, who's already in a panic: "Walk to the back of the store, turn left, at the end of the alley turn right, walk up the stairs, then turn left, and go right again…" Um, let her get a pen and paper first. Then, in another giggle-inducing scene, while Dad's in captivity and talking to Kim over the phone, he instructs her to find the circumference of two circles on a map by using his shoelaces (!), find the wind direction from some waving flags (!!), and then chuck grenades off of a building (!!!) so he can listen for the explosions and draw her closer to their location. What a subtle method, and who cares about innocent people, right? Telling her to rub her tummy, pat her head, while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, probably wouldn't have seemed like such a stretch.

For sure, there are laughs to be had, coming close to playing as entertaining camp, but humor most likely wasn't intentional. Casual moviegoers should get what they want here, but nothing more than what one would expect. And it'll probably kill at the box-office, so what do I know? After Bryan has already started kicking ass and taking names, he says, "I am tired of it all." We feel his exhaustion.

Grade: C -