Once you’ve saved your child’s life, you’d think that would forever cement your worth as a parent. Still, there are always more bad guys the world over plotting to harm your kid and make you suffer for their own reasons. Taking its cues from another inferior sequel, in Taken 2, this time it’s personal, as far as the villains are concerned.

When Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) retired from the action of the CIA, his hope was to get closer to his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), only to have to use his “very particular set of skills” to save her from criminal lowlifes in a European excursion they’d both rather forget. Even with a clean slate, the ins and outs of raising a teenager are a little more complicated than Bryan’s old job, but he’s still learning. Keeping his baby away from overzealous boys is still a walk in the park compared to what he has in store for him. The families of Kim’s deceased captors have long been planning their revenge on the man who killed their kin, and Bryan’s upcoming trip to Istanbul is where they intend to ambush him, with the added bonus of Kim and her mother (Famke Janssen) meeting up with him at the last minute. When Bryan and his ex-wife are abducted, he must rely on his daughter to help him get out of his latest jam and settle the score once and for all.

The list of no-brain action movies Neeson has headlined in the last few years just keeps getting longer and longer, but before there was The A-Team, both the Titans films, Unknown, The Grey and Battleship, there was the story of a daddy searching for his little girl and brutally killing anyone who got in his way. The illustrious actor rests on his laurels this time around, knowing he no longer needs to show off his talent for kicking ass and taking names. It’s Grace who has to step up in this follow-up, standing up to her worst nightmare coming true all over again, although to be fair, these guys are more interested in killing her and her closest family instead of selling them into white slavery. There’s a relief. Given her own physical prowess from Goldeneye and the X-Men series, you’d think Janssen would have been given something better to do rather than just be held hostage, but no such luck. Kim’s mom, Lenore, is portrayed as being even more helpless than Kim was during her first ordeal. To be fair, at least Serbian actor Rade Šerbedžija poses more of a determined threat to the safety of the Mills clan as the head of the Albanian mafia than the creepy malefactors who troubled them last time, his son among the men who met their end at Bryan’s hands. Apparently the idea of an overprotective dad is universal regardless of the intentions.

Think back to 2008. Did we have any idea the man who played Oskar Schindler and Alfred Kinsey could play a character so crudely constructed with a singular defining trait of paternal devotion and still make him seem human? No. That’s what made Taken such a sleeper hit. That and the unwavering intensity that began the instant his plane touched down in France and didn’t relent until he had achieved his goal. Four years ago, we overlooked the inconsistencies of the screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen because of the sheer surprise of its star’s performance. Besson and Kamen have the honors of penning this second entry, but whether it’s switching the director’s seat from Pierre Morel over to Olivier Megaton of Transporter 3 and Colombiana repute or just the usual hazards of a sequel, that adrenaline has all but dissolved. Bryan Mills has been softened too much, even if Neeson attempts to persuade us otherwise as the man who can escape any trap and do anything as long as he’s got a cell phone handy, and Grace has no business trying to get in on the action by tossing grenades here and there and getting behind the wheel for an impromptu driving lesson on the streets of Istanbul — those poor Turkish pedestrians.

The existence of Taken 2 is a prime example of how Hollywood takes something with which it got lucky and tries to let that good fortune ride. Judging by the overwhelming response with which audiences have embraced both of them, it looks like the studios will be betting on this pony for a long run. Looks like its moviegoers’ money that’s really been taken.

Rating: 1.5 out of 4 stars

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