MOVIE REVIEW: 'Taken 2' a bad rip-off of the first movie

TAKEN 2 (PG-13)

1 and 1/2 stars out of 4


This image released by 20th Century Fox shows Liam Neeson in a scene from "Taken 2." (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Magali Bragard)

This was inevitable. Because the first "Taken" was released with little to no expectations and became a surprise blockbuster, a quick follow-up cash-in was a lock. As is often the case -- particularly with action sequels -- "Taken 2" is a virtual carbon-copy of the first and goes from start to finish on predictable auto-pilot.

Back again is Liam Neeson as Bryan, an ex-CIA agent who is James Bond on steroids. Proficient in a number of hand-to-hand, Eastern-based fighting disciplines, Bryan can take out dozens of men at a time while emerging without a scratch. Also a superb marksman, he along with his magic pistol stuffed with an endless supply of bullets, never misses his target all while also miraculously dodging walls of automatic machine gun fire. Why is it in these movies, it is machine guns and not pistols that always need reloading?

In the first outing, Bryan's daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) was kidnapped and sold into white sex slavery, yet was spared indignities just in the nick of time thanks to his impossibly adroit detective skills. This time it is Bryan and his ex-wife Lenny (Famke Janssen), who is also Kim's mother, that are the kidnapped while the three vacation in Istanbul.

Opening with a monochrome title sequence stolen directly from "Se7en," "Taken 2" is not only too hard to swallow as a narrative, it's downright ugly. With few exceptions (about 10 percent), the entire film is shot in the shadows with slight variations on blue, black and grey -- both in the set designs and costumes which results in the characters blending in with the backgrounds. The fight scenes are shot so up-close and are edited so fast, it's hard to tell who's fighting who.

Bryan's principal foe this time out is Murad (Rade Serbedzija), the father of one of the slave traders killed by Bryan in the first installment. While burying his son Murad whips the families of the other dead terrorists/thugs into a frothy lather while calling for retribution jihad and, like sheep, they are more than willing to blindly follow him into battle. If his name doesn't ring a bell (and there's no reason it should) you'll recognize Serbedzija's face. Born in the former Yugoslavia, he's become the go-to guy in movies and TV whenever an imposing older Eastern European gangster type is needed.

Once Bryan and Lenny are taken, it's up to Kim to come to the rescue and co-writer/producer Luc Besson has her go through a series of complicated and unnecessarily convoluted steps along the way. She runs over rooftops, jumps across alleyways three stories high all while tossing grenades and of course, dodging automatic weapons fire. This is nothing compared to what takes place later on.

The movie opens with Bryan trying without much success, to teach Kim how to parallel park. In the second act Kim, with next to no driving experience and without a license, drives a stolen taxi through the razor thin streets of Istanbul at lightning speed as if she's Steve McQueen in "Bullitt" or Matt Damon in the first "Bourne" outing. Rather than suspend, this and other events shatter disbelief into smithereens.

In what has been the case in recent years, Besson turns over the directing duties to one of his underlings -- this time it's a guy named Olivier Megaton. If that last name seems a little too outlandish, that's because it is. Born with the surname Fontana, Megaton changed it because his birthday fell on the 20th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Living up to his stage name, Megaton employs overkill and bombast for the duration and by the time the anti-climactic ending roles around, we're either numb and/or ambivalent regarding the outcome.

Hopefully audiences will recognize "Taken 2" as the cheap rip-off that it is, spread the bad word quick and squash the possibility of a third outing before the end of the weekend. (Fox)