True confession: In the early morning after my “Taken 2” screening, I awoke and puked up an entire day’s worth of stomach contents.
Not to cast a direct physical connection between the two events - the undercooked hamburger probably played a role. But the symbolism is fairly easy.
For “Taken 2” is a checklist of the mundane - a dull, joyless slog through filmmaking as a product, with the paychecks hanging just out of reach for all parties involved, like the fake bunny in a dog race. When you see fellow audience members stumble out with a dead glare in their eyes, it’s not because they’re deeply reflecting on what they just witnessed.
Working from a screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, the movie plays like a direct embodiment of its own pitch – nothing more, nothing less. Liam Neeson’s family is kidnapped again. Liam Neeson must kill people to get them back again. A lingering threat is blatantly left dangling in the end for a sequel, but at this point, you gotta think his wife wishes they addressed kidnapping in the pre-nup.
Common sense is beside the point. A compelling narrative drive is beside the point. Spielberg can keep sending people to Jurassic Park to retrieve their lost Dollywood key chain or whatever all he wants, as long as he delivers the goods on screen.
There’s still a list of fundamental things a movie must do to keep from sucking. And “Taken 2” doesn’t do a damn one of them.
Let’s talk about coherence. Not narrative coherence or logical coherence, but actual visual coherence. Simply looking at what’s happening on screen and understanding, “Ah, so THAT’S what’s happening.” Director Olivier Megaton fumbles his camera around like a child trying caffeine for the first time who clearly doesn’t respect the master shot. Fights and car chases are an incomprehensible hodgepodge of cuts and sounds. We know Neeson and some bad guys are in the scene at any given moment…we just don’t know what they’re doing.
Call me old fashioned, but seeing actual guys look like they’re punching each other is much more intense than cutting around the sound effect of slapping a couch with a ping pong paddle.
Now let’s talk about wit. Mind you, there is a distinct difference between this and humor. Humor is the stuff that makes you laugh, which can or cannot be necessary in an action movie. Wit is the spark that reminds you this movie came from a unique creative mind, not some hack who wrote “Taken 2” so that he can brag to dancers at strip clubs that he wrote “Taken 2.” It’s what makes a movie engaging, despite its clichés.
Gone is the fun novelty of seeing Liam Neeson beat lots of people up, and zeitgeist moments like the famous "skills" speech.“Taken 2” is just dreary and utterly unremarkable.
Finally, let’s talk about emotional investment, the foundation for caring about a movie that obviously does not give two shits about us. Part of the appeal of the first “Taken” was the detective story aspect. We follow Neeson along as he (however implausibly) pieces together where his daughter wound up. It draws us into his world. This time around, we know full well before the kidnapping why his family is kidnapped, where they are, and how Neeson needs to find them.
We have no reason to care. No reason to stick around. Like waiting for death itself, this is a slow, inevitable march to the end.
I get why “Taken 2” got made. Believe me, I do. The first one earned a ton of money in theaters, even more on DVD, and will be around as long as FX needs to fill late night programming slots. And I respect the desire of Liam Neeson, always dependable, to ride this action star wave his career unexpectedly took.
He just looks like he had more fun playing Oskar Schindler.