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'Taken 2' works skill set for enjoyable sequel

9:07 PM, Oct. 4, 2012
Liam Neeson in a scene from 'Taken 2.'
Liam Neeson in a scene from 'Taken 2.' / Magali Bragard/20th Century Fox

‘Taken 2’

Star rating:★ ★ ★
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sensuality.

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Bryan Mills is a guy with very particular set of skills that he has acquired over a very long career. And those skills make him a nightmare for people who terrorize members of his family.

Since we learned all that about Bryan four years ago in the wildly popular “Taken,” the question seems to be: Do we care to see him utilize his specific skill set again? If the energetic results found in “Taken 2” are any indication, the character could be in for a good, long run.

As with the first film, a huge portion of the movie’s success is due to Liam Neeson, whose Bryan is a sensitive single dad who is also an ex-CIA operative. Neeson invests a lot of sad-eyed gravitas into the role. Even when Bryan goes a little too MacGyver and the movie stretches its credibility to the breaking point, the actor keeps things tethered to reality. Plus, that whispery voice doesn’t hurt, either.

In the first movie, Bryan’s daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) was abducted by human traffickers in Paris. Now, Bryan and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) are taken prisoner in Istanbul while Kim is on the lam from vengeful baddies.

At times, things come dangerously close to going over the top. Under Bryan’s direction, Kim runs around Istanbul, tossing hand grenades willy-nilly. Crazy? Sure, but with Neeson barking out the commands, who wouldn’t follow his orders?

If the movie doesn’t sink to the dismal “It’s happened again!” level of “The Hangover Part II,” neither does it try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, director Olivier Megaton plays it right down the middle. If a viewer enjoyed the exotic locale and fast-paced action in the original film, here they get a different city and even more amped-up happenings, with a plot that intrigues enough to reel a viewer in.

A frantic taxicab chase through the narrow streets of the city is particularly exciting, as is a sequence in which one of the thugs goes mano a mano with Bryan (he’s apparently a martial-arts wiz, too). There is also a gruesomely inventive bit in which Lenore is turned into something akin to a human hourglass, and Bryan has only 30 minutes to save her.

Granted, the film lacks the kicky element of surprise that made the first movie so enjoyable, but it’s hard to gripe too much. “Taken 2” aims to be a fast-paced, workmanlike sequel that shows off its charismatic leading man, and that’s exactly what it does.

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