Taken 2 is where crap becomes unwatchable crap. Its 2008 predecessor was garbage, too, but at least it was well-paced garbage. For a while, Taken 2 is one of those cookie-cutter sequels that goes beat-for-beat with what came before it, a la Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. The plot-point repetition alone makes for an over-the-top experience that actually seems to be owning up to its junkiness. It's just too ridiculous.
We get more evidence of how overprotective Liam Neeson's retired CIA agent character Bryan Mills is of his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). We get more signs of how superficially out-of-touch he is (a denim shirt with Western snaps is the new disposable camera). We see another scene of him kickin' it al fresco with his boys. And then, when the inevitable abduction goes down (this time it's in Istanbul), he's once again on the phone with his daughter, spouting a twist on what he said to her last time around: "Listen to me carefully, Kim. Your mother and I are going to be taken..."
And then they are and the film falls into a superhero stupor: Mills simply cannot fail. In an incredibly complicated scene that I'm not sure has any logical foundation, a captive Mills instructs his daughter over the phone to draw a series of circles on a map and use a shoestring as a guide and throw a grenade outside of her hotel window so that he can get a sense of how far away he is from his starting point. As the search goes on, she throws a few more grenades, at which point we must ask ourselves if the three lives in peril are worth the thousands they're putting at risk by using explosives for sound cues. Anyway, it works. After having slipped out of his restraints 15 seconds after his captors leave the room, Mills guides his daughter's run across the roofs of Istanbul directly to the building in which he and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen, with an infuriatingly unflattering dead-soul black dye job) are being held. Kim throws a gun down the vent that that he just used to send a steam signal, the clip falls out, the bad guys enter. I don't need to give you a spoiler alert to report that he gets his firepower sorted out in the nick of time.
I know, I know: It's a shitty action movie. Let it be that and accept its outlandishness as something that comes with the genre. I would, but the fundamental problem with Taken 2 is its ridiculousness is bogged down with one of the dullest protagonists in recent b-movie memory. Bryan Mills' scraps of idiosyncrasy are clichéd and boring. He's an old fart who snaps into mania when his family is threatened like every other animal on the planet. He's annoying and embarrassing - recall him soliciting advice from the pop star in the first installment - and his movies seem to have no grasp of that.
A few more lessons are predictably lost on the sequel: Kim still hasn't learned to put her cell (Taken 2 never stops iPhoning you) on ring, and the entire family still hasn't learned to stop traveling internationally. Yes, the relatives of the Europeans you killed the last time around are still going to be pissed off when you go back. After all, you have an action movie to manifest.
Taken 2 goes for the mindless action of the '70s and ‘80s, but it is too restrained and polite to be true exploitation fare. It's somewhere between the Death Wish franchise with its balls cut off, and Hostel 2 with the balls intact. The most badass thing about this movie is that its director's last name is "Megaton." It's a shame that this thing will get infinitely more attention than the weeks-old Dredd 3D has gotten (a paltry $12 million at the domestic box office so far, and counting, but for how much longer?). That movie is superior in every way, hitting deadpan and absurdly gory heights that Taken 2 keeps at a hemisphere's length. Pete Travis's film hits the overdrive button with more conscious precision than any other film this year (Rock of Ages came close in raw camp value). In the ‘80s, this might have packed theaters and definitely would have won the rest of its inevitably rabid audience over by being played on a loop on premium cable. Now, it struggles to find viewers. I hope that it will at some point, because it feels like a new classic of cinematic excess.
Dredd 3D is morally ambiguous (in hyper-saturated, gorgeously sparkling scenes, it shows you what's so good about the drug that's at the root of its chaos, SLO-MO), features Lena Headey (Game of Thrones' Cersei Lannister) playing Sharon Stone playing a scabby, methed-out drug boss and is the source of the most artful depiction of a body splattering against pavement in the history of cinema. It never runs out of ways to top itself, a tower of hilarity and excitement.
Pushing for a truce near Taken 2's end, Bryan Mills tells his adversary, "I am tired of it all." Yeah, and you feel it in every second of his dull movie. Dredd 3D, meanwhile, barely stops to take a breath - and when it does it's because it's so fucked up, an astonishingly massive garbage truck high on its own fumes.