"Taken 2" stars Liam Neeson as Jason Bourne's grandfather, more or less. Fitting into the odd new "Expendables" genre of AARP-age action heroes, he returns to the role of retired CIA agent Bryan Mills, introduced in 2008's "Taken."
Why an actor of Neeson's ability would play this character once, let alone twice, is a mystery for the ages. There is nothing remotely intriguing about the man. He has no personality, no humanity, no past, no interesting vulnerability. He never says anything clever. He is simply a slablike presence lumbering through action sequences.
Neeson does perform the part with a morose expression, but this does not strike me as the actor reflecting his character's inner pain. I read it as Neeson's chagrin that he has traveled from "Schindler's List" to roles meant for John Cena. I can see him turning up his collar and pulling his hat brim low as he enters the check-cashing depot.
In 2009's "Taken," Bryan rescued his virginal daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from Albanian white slavers who kidnapped her during a Paris vacation. This time he travels to Istanbul, where he and his family are menaced by relatives of the men killed in his earlier adventure. Leading the reprisal is the ubiquitous Serb actor Rade Serbedzija, the go-to guy for Foreignsylvanian wickedness, out to avenge Neeson's killing of his son.
The film shortchanges the paradox of two aggrieved fathers in an eye-for-an-eye feud. This is a punchy, shooty movie, not a thinky one.
As such, it concentrates on the mechanics of reuniting the kidnapped Bryan and his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), with Kim, who is a step ahead of the bad guys. Bryan, who sneaked a cellphone past his captors, talks her through the necessary steps like he's dictating a black-ops manual.
At one point he instructs her to throw several hand grenades from rooftops. While this is probably not the safest thing to do in a teeming city, it enables him to echo-locate her precisely, like a dolphin. When she arrives at his cell to slip him a gun, his escape is simplified by the fact that the bad guys forgot to put a guard in there with him. That oversight made it easy for him to saw off his wrist restraints, a single plastic cable tie. The villains are also outfitted with those Acme Machinegun Co. weapons that can't hit any target. There are moments here when you feel like the villains aren't really trying.
Then come episodes of florid stupidity like Kim's instant transformation from timid student driver to demolition derby getaway queen. That's when you realize it's the filmmakers who aren't trying.
But if you saw the original film you already know that. "Taken" once, shame on Hollywood. "Taken 2," shame on you.
TAKEN 2 one out of four stars Rating: PG-13.