The second installment of Liam Neeson's throat-chopping world tour wasn't screened by WW press deadlines, because who cares? It's Liam Neeson throat chopping vaguely ethnic European scumbags in track suits, so it's gotta be awesome, right? To quote Arnold Schwarzenegger: "Wrong."
Critics Grade: D+
When last we saw Taken (Liam Neeson), he was kicking the shit out of every Armenian in Europe while trying to save his daughter from sex slavery, as part of a savage cautionary tale about the perils of following U2 on tour in a foreign land. The result of the mean-spirited, unintentionally campy, xenophobic slugfest was Neeson's subsequent rise from arthouse favorite to go-to male-menopausal man of action, and it's served him well in a series of ass-beating roles ranging from intriguing (wolf-punchin' epic The Grey) to tongue-in-cheek (The A-Team), to downright dumb (The Unknown). So it only makes sense that Neeson would return to his unexpected role as an ex-CIA pugilist in the sequel to one of the most unlikely (and unlikeable) blockbusters in recent memory.
With Taken 2: The Takening (our title, not the movie's, though it should be), Neeson's back as Taken, a sweet-hearted ass-beater trying his best to mend his relationship with daughter Lil' Taken (Maggie Grace) and his ex-wife, formerly known as Mrs. Taken (Famke Janssen). Much to their chagrin, Taken neglected them to focus on his career of hammer-punching people in the throat, which fractured the family until Lil' Taken was kidnapped and sold into slavery, forcing daddy to hammer-punch the throats of endless hordes of track-suited Albanian perverts in order to save her. He won. They rekindled. The streets flowed red with blood (not really: It was PG-13).
The catch this time, though, is that Taken's impossibly virginal daughter (who can't even drive a car, for fuck's sake, unless there's a bad guy to run over in front of her) isn't taken at all. It's Taken himself who's taken, in addition to his ex wife and several tracks from Cliff Martinez's Drive score, which are, naturally, used in scenes involving driving and elevators and serve to make you wish you were watching that movie instead of this hopelessly muddled mess.
You see, some of the 900 people Taken throat-chopped to death in Taken had families, and one of them had a dad played by go-to Eastern European character actor Rade Sherbedgia (Snatch's Boris the Blade; every other movie's commie scumbag). The evil man incapable of pronouncing "w" swears to avenge the death of his son, whose upstart business of turning kidnapped virgins' vaginas into playgrounds for rich, ambiguously ethnic men was cut short by a throat punch. Henchmen are dispatched. Necks go unprotected.
After a slick, if improbable, escape scene wherein Lil' Taken helps Big Taken escape imprisonment via echo-locating him using grenades, Taken uses his "particular set of skills" to track down the baddies and save his wife using a particularly unsophisticated set of skills—that is, beat by beating the fuck out of every Albanian wearing a tracksuit he sees until he finds her. If they're smoking cigarettes, they also get their necks broken…but without sound, since it's PG-13.
That's all well and good (unless you're a PR rep with Adidas as a client, in which case, shit), were it not for the execution. Director Olivier Megaton—whose name alone implies he should know better—shoots the action in a way that's so frantic and confusingly edited that it makes his previous work in the third Transporter look like classical ballet. The film's so full of hyperactive jump cuts and herky-jerky camera work it's impossible to tell who even won a fight until the next scene, when Neeson invariably walks away from a sea of lifeless track suits and makes an intense cell phone call.
The Takening is an extremely stupid piece of shit. Typically, with this kind of movie, that should be an overwhelmingly positive assessment. When we go to a movie theater to watch a sexagenarian hammer-punching an endless sea of faceless henchmen in their necks, we expect certain things—brainlessness, one-liners and explosions chief among them. But Megaton—whose name is ridiculously fun to type, and who should really be making more movies with explosions as central characters—sucks all the joy out of the affair in a way that makes Pierre Morel's joylessly crude original seem like a whiz-bang actioner of the Commando variety. Neeson punches just fine, but the presentation here is almost unwatchable. Let's hope that when the inevitable Taken It To The Streets hits theaters, we'll finally get the kind of tongue-in-cheek mix of hilarity, explosions, and bloodied track suits this series deserves, rather than some bullshit that thinks it's making a bigger statement than the word "pow." AP KRYZA.