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MOVIE REVIEW: "Taken 2" 

From Paris to Istanbul

As everyone knows, in the film industry success tends to breed success, and of course too often excess also breeds excess, which helps to explain the common practice of proliferating sequels to pictures that bring in the big bucks. Mixing memory and desire, the studio executives, bankers, accountants, and agents, or in other words, the people who really make movies, often choose the safe route of repeating the past and hoping for the future. Without that repetition, we wouldn't have those franchise flicks, an ancient Hollywood tradition, and genre critics would suffer a certain impoverishment of material.

"Taken 2," the latest example of a somewhat unlikely and apparently extremely profitable sequel, demonstrates the industry's unquenchable thirst for duplication. Repeating much of the substance of its predecessor and starring the same people, the movie also suggests that its star, Liam Neeson, who last year appeared in another thriller, "Unknown," now joins a number of contemporary male performers, like Russell Crowe, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Jake Gyllenhaal, who have moved from a variety of more or less orthodox dramatic roles to taking on parts in action pictures. The practice may serve the same purpose as the Western, that great form of days gone by, in establishing the virility of a star, making it a sort of manhood ritual.

By bringing back the original characters and the actors who played them, the new movie actually repeats itself more closely than most sequels. Neeson once again plays Bryan Mills, a former CIA agent who now freelances as some sort of international security consultant. It also once again stars Maggie Grace as his daughter Kim and Famke Janssen as his ex-wife Lenore, now suffering from the emotional cruelty of her new husband, a character who never really appears in the movie, making his absence a presence.

In the first "Taken" Neeson employed all his skills as an operative to rescue his daughter from a vicious organization that abducted young women for the sex trade. He drove all over Paris, frequently right through a number of buildings, in pursuit of the racketeers and, after a good deal of violent action, of course succeeded in the rescue; he knocked off a number of bad guys and dispatched the ringleader in an appropriately picturesque manner.

The situation in the new movie not only resembles but in effect grows out of its predecessor. An Albanian gangster, Murad Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija), the father of the man Bryan Mills killed, gathers his clan and his henchmen on a mission to revenge the loss in the bloodiest and most painful way he can devise. They stalk Mills in Istanbul, and after a desperate chase, capture him and his ex-wife; with the help of her father's instructions on a hidden cell phone, Kim eludes them and assists her father in a complicated and violent rescue.

"Taken 2" runs on the same high-octane fuel that propelled the plot of first picture — numerous shootouts, several frenzied automobile chases through Istanbul, some of them in stolen taxis, leaving a shocking amount of damaged cars, ruined market stalls, and dead Albanians in their wake. A running gag in the movie involves Kim's flunking her driving test twice, which does not stop her from negotiating the narrow streets at high speed like a NASCAR driver who's ingested more than his usual ration of crystal meth.

Some of the best moments actually reflect brainwork rather than violence, showing the ingenious methods by which a handcuffed and blindfolded Bryan Mills works out the route and location of his captors and tells his daughter how to find him. The sheer process of his deductions and her response constitute a useful counterpoint to all the beatings and bullets.

Liam Neeson proves himself a worthy actor and a convincing action hero — tough, understated, refreshingly ruthless, but a doting father with just the sort of sentimentality that so many American films exploit in order to redeem a man who kills a great many people. His impressive physical presence and rugged countenance mask a certain gentleness and vulnerability, qualities we like to see in our tough guys; as the critics often suggest, the American hard-boiled heroes usually turn out to be soft on the inside.

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