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Family Movie Review: Taken 2 (PG-13)

“Taken” was undoubtedly Liam Neeson’s career resurgence, a movie that repositioned the formerly serious character into an older, thinking man’s action star—well, a certain level of thinking. For every somewhat philosophical action movie that he does like “The Grey,” he does two or three other awful ones, like “Unknown.” So “Taken 2,” honestly, could have gone in either direction. It could have been a straightforward fightfest like its 2008 predecessor, or slightly more intellectual than all that. Maybe it would raise questions for us about family, duty, honor, or loyalty. Who knows! “Taken 2” could have been whatever it wanted.

And yet, the film turns out to be nothing anyone wanted. It is a frustratingly terrible, unbearably ludicrous mess, a mish-mash of increasingly bad dialogue, irritatingly edited action scenes, and appallingly broad racism and misogyny. If I didn’t have to stay through the movie for this review, I would have left three separate times. I was angry enough to note them in my notes. So. Angry.

If you somehow have not seen “Taken,” here’s a refresher: Former CIA operative Bryan Mills (Neeson, of “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Battleship,” and “Wrath of the Titans”) saves his teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1” and “Faster”) from being sold into prostitution by Albanian sex traffickers. After she is kidnapped in Paris, Mills utters a warning to Kim’s captors—”I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you”—and then makes good on them, murdering all the baddies, including the Albanian he originally threatened, Marko (Arben Bajraktaraj).

Well, Marko had a dad, Murad (Rade Serbedzija, of “X-Men: First Class” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”), and now Murad—and the family members of all the other evil, heathen Muslims whom Mills killed while saving his beautiful, pure daughter—are after the American who dared meddle in their business. “Taken 2” focuses on how these gross, barbaric Albanians decide to entrap Mills, Kim, and her mother Lenore (Famke Janssen) while they’re staying in Istanbul, Turkey. They’re going to find them, torture them, and kill them, just as Mills did to their relatives; as Marko promises his village during a mass funeral service, “We will have our revenge.”

And so we get a pretty direct replication of what happened in “Taken,” but now it’s Mills and Lenore who end up being kidnapped, and Kim who must save them. But it’s not like Kim, presented as a frivolous, irresponsible teenager who seemingly has learned nothing from her ordeal in Paris, has any ideas of her own. She just does whatever Mills tells her to do, and since the script by Luc Besson (director of the first “Taken”) and Robert Mark Kamen makes him into this ridiculous MacGyver-type who knows the back door of every random building in Istanbul and can measure distances by how fast sound travels, she’s never given any chance to come into her own as a character. Neither does Lenore. Women don’t get the chance to matter in the “Taken” films, even though they’re ostensibly about sex trafficking and how evil and vile of an industry that is. Instead, the films seem to be saying, “Women, a white man will save you from this terrible thing that foreign men do … and then you have to listen to every single thing that saviors tells you to do, because you can’t be entrusted with taking care of yourself or making your own decisions.”

Maybe that’s reading too much into how “Taken 2” has Mills treat his ex-wife and daughter. But it’s impossible to ignore the undeniably racist way director Olivier Megaton (of “Colombiana”) chooses to depict Albanians and Muslims—they’re presented as a bloodthirsty, idiotic cult, all easily identifiable for the audience because of their swarthy demeanor, greasy hair, obsession with soccer, love of smoking hookah, and omnipresent crescent moon tattoos. There is not one person in the film who helps the Mills family who is Albanian, Turkish, or Muslim; instead, the Albanian government and Turkish police, government, and hospitality workers are also in on the scheme to kill the Americans. The only person who says something to protect them is a French-accented maid who calls security on the bad guys chasing Kim. Another maid with an Arabic accent tries to stop her escape. There’s so much easy, lazy prejudice in this movie that “Taken 2” actually becomes revolting.

And yes, aside from all the script’s problems with gender and race, it’s also just awful on its own merits. The majority of the film is Mills barking out directions or getaway routes, but the first 45 minutes are an awful attempt at trying to portray the Mills family as normal. They fight and bicker about Kim’s boyfriend, just like regular people! It’s tedious and unnecessary.

Similarly frustrating is how the film refuses to settle nonsensical plot points or maintain a steady sense of time and place. At one point, Mills and Kim steal a taxi to chase the van that the Albanians are using to move Lenore from their first holding place, but when Mills goes back to save her, he goes to the place where the Albanians originally moved her from … and she’s still there. What! Where is the consistency?

The only thing you can rely on “Taken 2” for is awfulness. It is by far the most offensive and odious film of 2012, and there aren’t enough words to capture my hatred for this film.

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