So it looks like "Taken 2" made $50 million last weekend, the third-biggest October opening in the history of movies. This says as much about October movies as it does about "Taken 2," unfortunately: It couldn't top the openings of the second "Jackass" movie or the third "Paranormal Activity." The second "Taken" benefitted from the fact that the first had the memorable line in which Liam Neeson tells a kidnapper to release his daughter or be tracked down and killed. Apparently people liked the thought of Neeson, a refined Northern Irish yeti of a man, tracking down and murdering Eurotrash human traffickers in search of his teenager. Vaulting from that appeal, Neeson has made a tidy little career of kicking people's (and wolves', and aliens', and Greek gods') asses in the years since.
Neeson's back in "Taken 2" doing more of the same, in a movie that feels like more of the same throughout. His retired CIA agent turned security specialist is trying to maintain a normal fatherly presence with his now college-aged daughter, played again by Maggie Grace (b. 1983). He's also gently macking on his ex-wife, Famke Janssen (nee Jean Grey in the "X-Men" films), who's having trouble with her new husband, some Beemer-driving jerk we never actually see.
Gosh, well, why don't mother and daughter accompany the former spook on a bit of sight-seeing in Istanbul? That sure sounds like a way to get everyone bonding again. Except that the kidnapper gang of Albanian psychopaths from the first movie is burying their dead and talking of revenge against our hero. Apparently the main kidnapper from "Taken" had a dad — Rade Serbedzija looking a bit like the Most Interesting Man in the World after a month-long beach bender. He wants to kill Neeson real slow on the same godforsaken hill where he planted the son he dutifully raised into a violent kidnapper.
In sequelworld, a dumb and usually repetitive place, this setup at least qualifies as logical, being a natural extension of the original story, with the added bonus that it mirrors the moving force (monomaniacal fatherly love) of "Taken." But most of what unfolds in "Taken 2" is implausible, derivative and pat. (Wait, you mean the one overseas trip that his family joins is the one in which these gangsters plan his abduction?) Worse, no one is particularly interesting — not the leads, not the track-suited thugs chasing them in SUVs. Chess pieces have more distinct personalities than the characters of "Taken 2." This is closer to a game of checkers that devolves into neck-breakings.
Meanwhile Olivier Megaton directs-by-numbers. Luc Besson, who wrote "Taken" and the "Transporter" movies, is back with a script that unfolds like action movie Mad Libs. The last alleged joke in the 91-minute running time has the daughter asking the father not to shoot her boyfriend as they all sit down to milkshakes. (Oh, spoiler: The good guys go for milkshakes at the end.) It's supposed to sound playful-ironic but it's just grim and dumb after he has pumped bullets into every gun-toting lunk in Istanbul, smashing great chunks of the old city along the way.
Give "Taken 2" credit for this much: The car chases are as spectacular as they are utterly unbelievable. Things explode, satisfyingly. And there are some fine hand-to-hand fighting scenes between Neeson (b. 1952) and some equally well-aged goons. Now, you may wonder, what are their names? What are their stories? Why should you care what happens? No time for silly questions. Old man Neeson has necks to break.