Sunday, October 7, 2012

Taken 2

Which of the three is most effective?

The deadening frustration in watching Taken 2 shares it blame with the filmmakers and the audience. In most instances, a moviegoer should hope to be entertained in a comparatively intelligent manner, but he or she should also not have high expectations for a cash-grab sequel of a flawed, grimy B-movie. Taken at least delivered Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, a mean wrecking machine of a security consultant, in a series of outlandish set pieces that were viscerally exciting, though severely lacking intellectually and highly questionable in their international and gender politics. If you haven’t seen its weekly television airings, it’s about Mills violently taking down the Albanian sex trafficker thugs that kidnapped his estranged daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) during her Paris vacation with her friend. The plot for the sequel – spoilers – is that Mills and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) get taken by relatives of those traffickers at the start of an impromptu family vacation in Istanbul. Though this is an eye-roll of a conceit, suspension of disbelief should be granted for nearly any movie, until it fails to present anything in a tonally consistent and logical manner.
There were two things I was looking for in this movie: any sort of development or agency for the Kim character, and, for lack of a better term, “ownage,” by Neeson and hopefully Grace as well. Taken 2 does not hold up either parts of this bargain, the very basics expected of a sequel given its initial story, and so its many flaws cannot be overlooked. At the end of the first film, Kim having been through a horrifying ordeal, Bryan sets her up with singing lessons with some generic pop star he saved the life of. At the beginning of the second film, Kim is still taking music lessons, and now driving lessons (Grace is 29 years old, it is unsure how old she’s supposed to be getting away with here). But apparently her dad didn’t insist on teaching her any sort of defensive skills, despite his having to take out dozens of men in order to rescue her. There are some perfunctory scenes in Los Angeles of this fractured family, including some fairly surprising acknowledgments of the obsessive nature of Bryan. It’s immediately apparent with these early, simple dialogue scenes that the director, Olivier Megaton (his name is perhaps the best part of the movie), chose to not shoot anything resembling a watchable movie: the camera appears to be on the exterior ring of a gimbal in what should just be standard tripod shot, reverse-shot scenes. Everything is punched up for no reason whatsoever. Of course in this filmic world the Americans have to be terrorized by foreigners in an exotic locale, so for the flimsiest and ill-conceived of reasons, Kim and Lenore leave L.A. to join Bryan in Istanbul as he wraps up a business trip.

It’s not worth deconstructing how the main bad guy (Rade Serbedzija) of the many anonymous bad guys manages to suddenly have his leverage for revenge over Mills and family, but Bryan and Lenore are indeed kidnapped within a day, while Kim is relaxing back at the hotel. The brief car chase and mass-attack fight sequence that lead to this are boring and lazy. The first fight scene, what should be the “getting to the fireworks factory” moment of the movie, is hampered by camerawork and editing that needlessly speed it up and cut around the action. There’s no real sense of danger or skill involved. Bryan, just as he does in the first movie, manages to warn Kim via cell phone, but this time he’s the one kidnapped. What a twist! Grace does the most she can with this role, but essentially she acts as an errand girl in rescuing her father, he has to talk her through everything. She’s competent only when given instruction and encouragement, like when she magically has stunt-driver skills later on in another rather boring car chase. Janssen is the victim in this film, which continues a Hollywood tradition of women being tortured. There’s actually a sequence where her captor’s slow, agonizing molesting of her is used as a pacing device as Bryan almost lackadaisically tries to find his way back to her despite literally having a map as to where they were; it’s some truly appalling filmmaking. (Sorry, spoiler alert, the action hero does escape). There are so many ways in which Taken 2 could be cited in a paper for a gender studies class – the film could be subtitled More Aggressive Jingoistic Patriarchy – but it’s also just plain boring. The “big fight” is between Neeson and a man much shorter and heavier than him, like the casting agent knew in advance that the film wasn’t even trying. There’s even a dub step song over the credits for no reason.
I feel that reviews should help the reader in some way, and beyond my recommendation that you avoid Taken 2, I will say that you would be better served by streaming some other 2012 films that do what it couldn’t even aspire to: the gorgeous, haunting, and existential Turkish police procedural Once Upon aTime in Anatolia, and the actually action-packed and smart Haywire, featuring Gina Carano as a strong female lead.

1 comment:

  1. Neeson may be a getting a bit too old for these types of roles but for the time he’s up on-screen, he at least has fun with it and that generates pretty positively to the crowd. Good review Eric.