If nothing else, no one is likely to get took by Taken, which neither pretends nor aspires to be anything more than what it is. To wit? Well, in the cultural flatlands of diminished expectations, this is moviemaking as a utilitarian low-rise – just a mediocre action franchise with a solid actor at the head and a travelogue in its heart. Last time out, Paris was the destination, where Liam Neeson – a kind of geriatric Bourne pensioned off by the CIA but with his “particular set of skills” duly activated – killed multiple baddies and slayed every last shred of logic to rescue his kidnapped daughter. Now, it’s on to Istanbul. Different city, same skill set, identical premise – just add his ex-wife to the ranks of the imperilled.
Evidence for the slimness of the script (stamped out at the Luc Besson factory) can be found in the extended stall of the preface. Trading in the customary opening bangs for a prolonged whimper, the thing marks time for a full 20 minutes States-side. There, former spouse Lenore (Famke Janssen) shines back up to her former hubby, while their offspring Kim (Maggie Grace) flunks her driving test and, much to Daddy’s dismay, canoodles with her new boyfriend. My, without a bullet yet fired, the domestic excitement is killing us.
Finally, the reconstituted clan heads off to Turkey for some sightseeing. And this too: Seated with his daughter on a Bosphorus ferry, père Liam reaches deep into his bag of skills and pulls out the one marked Geography: “On this side is Europe and on that side is Asia.” Enthuses Kim without a hint of irony: “How do you know all this stuff?” Fathers everywhere, labouring under the illusion that it’s tough to impress an omniscient teenager, can take hope.
Lesson over, peril arrives in the form of a less learned patriarch named Murad (Rade Sherbedgia), whose son figured among those multiple baddies bumped off in Take One. Out for vengeance, Murad is quick to corral both Lenore and Liam, shackling them in the usual dank basement where aged pipes leak onto mouldy concrete. Luckily, in the Mexican standoff that preceded their capture, with every drawn gun pointed at every drawn face, Liam takes multitasking to impressive heights, coolly deploying his free hand to make a cellphone call to warn off Kim. His next call proves more instructive: Suddenly, his darling little girl is racing across tiled rooftops, lobbing grenades every which way, and generally making it crystal clear that the CIA apple doesn’t fall far from the CIA tree.
Later, with one parent liberated, but Mom still in distress, it’s time to retake that driving test – in a purloined car, with a stick shift, double-clutching like Ayrton Senna, roaring through the city’s labyrinthine alleys as Liam rides shotgun with his shotgun. Again, fathers should take note. When engaged in a high-speed chase with men of homicidal persuasion, etiquette demands that Daughter drives while Daddy shoots. Sticking with matters of etiquette, Murad has the extremely poor taste to suggest to a cornered Liam, “Don’t play the hero with me,” thereby threatening the livelihood of hard-working stars in every low-rent franchise. Tacky, indeed.
More worrisome, that other solid thespian, Istanbul, is woefully underemployed here. Director Olivier Megaton (a nom de cinema, be assured) makes scant use of its abundant charms, settling instead for the standard typecasting – swarthy men, veiled women, narrow streets, domed mosques. Such a waste of a major cosmopolitan talent.
As for the climax, it comes with a generous offer to end the cycle of violence – or, as this concept is known in Hollywood, sequels. Such heresy, the suspense mounts, and the future of the franchise hangs in the balance. What will it bring: Taken 3 or Mistaken?