October 6, 2012

Megaton Bomb*

by Vadim Rizov

Taken 2

[* In honor of the Fake Gene Shalit Twitter account.]

Olivier Megaton's Taken 2 is his second mediocre sequel to a surprise global hit produced by the ever-industrious Luc Besson. His flat feature debut Transporter 3 followed the unapologetically cartoonish excesses of Louis Letterier's 2005 Transporter 2 with one good car chase, one brief fight involving Jason Statham using his impeccable jacket as a weapon, and copious ill-advised "comic" flirtation between The Transporter and his Ukrainian model transport Valentina (Natalya Rudakova), in sequences making the bad assumption audiences came to watch Statham talk.

Not all of the blame can be assigned to Megaton. According to Besson's regular collaborator—Robert Mark Kamen, an ex-Warner Brothers contract writer turned overseas blockbuster consultant—Besson will "literally storyboard these things with the angles and with all his cinematic vision, and he'll take [...] these young directors, like Louis Letterier or [Taken director] Pierre Morel, and he says, 'Look, this is how it is. This is the cinematic language we're gonna use." The scripts come ready-to-film, but not always with the same level of care in crafting set pieces or producing listenable dialogue, and luck of the draw seems essential.

Taken 2

Extenuating circumstances aside, there's no concealing that Megaton's Taken 2 is woefully inferior to the original. The original's main selling point (which grossed nearly 10 times' its budget worldwide) was watching once respectable actor Liam Neeson apply his formidable 6'4" frame to relentlessly beating his way up the chain of command in possession of his kidnapped daughter. Discovery led to violence, violence to more discoveries, and so on. The trail ended with an Albanian sex slave ring acting to procure girls for, among others, Sheikh Rahman—a glowering oil money ghoul and the final Big Boss in Neeson's path. These definitely Other villains are, if not outright racist, certainly unconcerned with deploying stereotypes to move the story along, and have a hard to deny/brutal energy, like watching a European Death Wish that's actually been directed.

As if in apology, Neeson's Bryan Mills is seen briefly acting as a three-day bodyguard at an Istanbul hotel for another wealthy Muslim in Taken 2. "You made my stay feel very safe," the anonymous potentate tells Bryan. Up to this point, peacetimes Bryan has been making a pest of himself. Finding out daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) has a boyfriend, he immediately tails her to the lad's house (her car is GPS-bugged); learning ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) is upset, he holds her hand and asks repeatedly if there's anything he can do. Smotheringly obsessive towards Kim and inhumanly saintly towards Lenore, Bryan is on a mission to passive-aggressively worm his way back into his family's hearts.

Taken 2

In a parodically similar recap of the first film, trouble comes for Bryan's family from Albanian patriarch Murad Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija), father of one of the first film's kills. "He slaughtered our men," he seethes before the combined-casualty funeral crowd. "Our brothers. Our sons." With a crew of toughs, Murad drives over the border into Turkey. As the muezzin gives the call to morning prayer, Murad's posse of black Mercedes cruise ominously through Turkey. (If Taken 2 is trying to renounce the original's racist imagery, this isn't the way to do it.) Mayhem ensues, and Bryan calls Kim: "Your mother and I are going to be taken," he announces, and Kim—hardened by the first film—understands exactly what this ad hoc verb means.

There are two so-dumb-they're-enjoyable scenes in Taken 2. Both involve something like father-daughter bonding. Initially, Bryan wants Kim to seek immediate shelter while he works his way out of captivity. "I want you to go to the US Embassy," he says. "You'll be safe there." (In light of current geopolitical turmoil, the inadvertent laughter provoked is unnerving.) But Kim offers to help. Over the phone, Bryan directs his daughter through a full reconnaissance-and-rescue mission that begins with her constructing a compass from a shoe string and a Sharpie and ends with her tossing grenades onto deserted rooftops to act as a sounding device. ("Be casual," Bryan helpfully advises. "Try to blend in.") Later, she serves as the driver during an extravagantly destruction-heavy drive to the embassy whose repeated exchanges go like this:

Taken 2

Bryan: "Faster, Kim!"
Kim: "Dad!"
Bryan: "You can do it!"
Kim: "I can't!"
Bryan: "Do it!”

And so on for five breathlessly stupid minutes. But much of the film settles into a monotonous groove: Neeson walks down a hallway or ambles down the street, horror movie strings build, sounds drops out for a while, then shots and music resume as Bryan drops the (firepower) bass. The rhythm resembles an especially pokey first-person shooter. At 91 minutes including credits, Taken 2 is a barely-there wisp of a sequel. Taken was disreputable but fun, with any inadvertent laughs were prompted by its bloodthirsty excesses. Here, the most memorable moment isn't Neeson setting up an improvised electro-shock torture chamber or promising to kill people within 72 minutes. Instead, it's a brief non sequitur during a hotel chase. Two bad guys burst into two rooms to find Kim. One finds nothing, the other opens the door on an elderly white-haired white man and shoots him out of reflex. And what does he say in subtitled Albanian to his companion? "I shot some guy," a howler encapsulating the film's shoddy manufacture and generic qualities.

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Posted by ahillis at October 6, 2012 2:09 PM