‘Taken 2’

In Taken 2 Liam Neeson takes dead aim at his family's kidnappersThe dirty little secret about sequels is that seldom are they true sequels. They are remakes.

Audiences demand that filmmakers repeat exactly what made the first movie so popular. Arguably the greatest sequel of all time, “The Godfather: Part II,” failed to do this. And the movie didn’t make half the box office gross of the original film.

So a sequel such as “Taken 2” must replicate the formula of its 2008 predecessor, “Taken” (worldwide gross $224 million).

Meaning what was fresh and exciting in that film is now embalmed in a mechanical reproduction that insists against all logic the same thing happens to the same “retired” CIA agent in yet another foreign country.

What are the odds?

So Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson returning no doubt for at least double his usual quote) is still “retired” and hanging out with his same old CIA cronies. He yearns to spend more time with daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), still living in palatial splendor with his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen).

As it must, foreign travel — with Istanbul substituting for Paris to change the scenery at least — means kidnappings, the Mills’ family in jeopardy, more Albanian thugs and Mills using every element of his CIA spycraft perfectly to rescue everyone and kill countless bad guys.

In Taken 2 Maggie Grace hides on a hotel ledgeThe same writers, French producer Luc Besson and American vintner-screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen, plug in the de rigueur segments — the chases, tortures and narrow escapes — without much if any regard for logic.

Indeed for the tension to work at all, everyone — hero, villains and screenwriters — must forget what the actual plot is. Let me explain.

The plot is straightforward. The new bad guy, Murad (Rade Sherbedgia), is the father of Marko, the first “Taken” kidnapper whom Mills had to kill. So Murad wants to revenge his son’s death by kidnapping and killing Mills.

It’s important to remember this: Murad simply wants to kill Mills. Because, as I said, everyone including Murad will soon forget.

Murad lives in some God-forsaken Albanian village in the mountains but remarkably his intelligence and contacts are so good that he is aware Mills will be in Istanbul for three days on business and he can expect the cooperation of much of the city’s police force to capture and kill Mills.

Really? The Istanbul police force cooperates with Albanian terrorists?

Okay, let that go. Mills does come to Istanbul and after his three-day job, his daughter and ex-wife surprise him by showing up at his hotel.

The Albanians move in as Mills and Lenore go sightseeing by car but Mills spots them almost immediately. (Of course he does.) A chase punctuated by several fights ensues, making excellent use of the exotic locales of that fascinating city.

But Murad succeeds in capturing Mills and his ex-wife. So mission accomplished: He can kill Mills and even Lenore if he’s in the mood and go home. But he forgets his mission!

In Taken 2 Liam Neeson takes Famke Janssen sightseeingInstead Murad wants to go for a trifecta: He wants to kidnap the daughter too. Never mind that this was not the original plan nor did he have any way of knowing the daughter would even be in Istanbul.

So he puts revenge on hold while his goons enter a luxury hotel, break into rooms, kill an innocent guest and shoot it out with hotel security guards.

Meanwhile Murad leaves Mills and Lenore tied up but alone in a dingy back room of his compound while he and his guys go off to watch a soccer game on TV. I couldn’t make that up. A soccer game distracts them!

You can’t leave a super spy like Mills alone. In a matter of minutes he’s made several phone calls to his daughter, freed himself, untied Lenore and, were it not for the movies’ current anti-tobacco stance, no doubt had time for a quick smoke.

You get the sense these aren’t the smartest movie bad guys. Especially when Mills returns to the compound to rescue his wife (whom he had to leave behind) and finds the main gate unlocked. Unlocked?

But the “Taken” formula is successfully repeated. In catching the original movie on TV now and then, I do believe it wasn’t a bad suspense thriller.

A father desperate to locate and rescue his daughter can’t help but grab you. He was impossibly superhuman in his spying and fighting skills but you kind of hope for this given the mission he was on.

Here those skills, especially coming from a man who is no longer a youngster, look silly. The film’s new director, Olivier Megaton, another Frenchman who specializes in action movies for Besson, uses quick cuts and a moving camera to cover up for Neeson.

In shots lasting less than three seconds even Neeson can land punches.

The production values are, of course, first rate. Istanbul where most of the film takes place is well used and the chases, rooftop leaps and fights are professional though tired.

These are essentially the same moves we all saw in the “Mission: Impossible” and “Bourne” films. This would include the one earlier this year, which like “Taken 2” insists that the congested streets of a crowded foreign city will somehow melt away for car chases when in reality you can’t go a block without a bottleneck.

Opens: October 5, 2012 (20th Century Fox)
Production companies: A Eurocorp/M6 Films/Grive Productions co-production with Canal+ and Cine+
Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, D.B. Sweeney, Luke Grimes, Rade Sherbedgia
Director: Olivier Megaton
Screenwriters: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Producer: Luc Besson
Director of photography: Romain Lacourbas
Production designer: Olivier Beriot
Music: Nathaniel Mechaly
Costume designer: Olivier Beriot
Editors: Camille Delamarre, Vincent Tabaillon
PG-13 rating, 92 minutes