Taken 2

Fri, Oct 5, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Olivier Magaton. Starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Sherbedgia, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, DB Sweeney 12A cert, general release, 90 min

Liam Neeson is a class act, but DONALD CLARKEwasn’t taken by this ridiculous, racist sequel

WELL, YOU COULDN’T say that the second film in (alas, this may prove to be the right phrase) the Taken cycle is without its remarkable moments. One scene in particular offers the most jaw- droppingly absurd action sequence you will encounter this side of SpongeBobSquarePants.

Albanian hoods have captured benign thug Brian Mills (Liam Neeson), but not before he has taken the precaution of secreting a miniature phone in his shoe. He contacts his daughter and outlines a scheme that will allow him to get a line on her location. She is instructed to fling a hand grenade through the window of her hotel. He counts the beats until the noise of the explosion reaches his cell and passes on further instructions to the compliant young woman. She is to move several hundred yards through the busy streets of Istanbul and detonate another grenade.

So it goes. To be fair, he does suggest that – if it’s at all possible, if it’s not too inconvenient – she avoid blowing up any passing motorists or wandering school children.

Even veterans of the first Taken film, not much at home to plausibility, will find themselves rubbing their eyes and poking pencils in their ears. The scene sums up the strange mix of near-surreal anti-logic and borderline racism that characterises these projects.

Racism? Yes. It is hard to believe that Luc Besson, evil genius behind the films, would write a scene in which young Ms Mills is invited to fling hand grenades round the streets of his native Paris. Istanbul is exotic. Life is (peut-être, qui sait?) cheap in that part of the world. You know what these people are like.

Perhaps we are doing Besson and Olivier Megaton, his absurdly named director, a terrible disservice in this area. But no excuses can satisfactorily justify the gross racial stereotyping of the Balkan baddies. Muttering darkly in bad leather jackets, they are no less crudely drawn than the Asian white slave traders in Victorian penny dreadfuls.

Of course, none of this would seem so conspicuously troubling if the film worked well on its own degraded terms. But, like its bafflingly successful predecessor, Taken 2 fails many of the tests we set for our action films. The chases are boringly hard to follow. The big denouement flits by in a perfunctory instant. And the 12A cert punch-ups are utterly useless.

Remember how, in Chicago, they edited Richard Gere’s scenes in nanosecond takes to cover up the fact that he can’t dance very well? A similar strategy appears to be at work here. Let’s not blame Neeson too much. Now a sleek 60, he has earned the right to an easy life and can’t be expected to train himself into Ballymena’s version of Jet Li. But really. The fight moves are so brief and contained that Angela Lansbury could manage them without risk of hernia.

They were always going to accommodate our Liam. Hitherto viewed as a big, serious actor from big, serious films, he did an impressive job of transforming himself into a younger Clint Eastwood for the first episode. Like that veteran, he relied on gruff vocal timbres rather than balletic action or muscle-straining high kicks. So you’d think they’d work a little harder at finding something amusing for Neeson to say. But, once again, his dialogue plays like the work of a first-generation translation application struggling with a language for which it hasn’t been properly programmed.

Oh, stop being so pernickety, you say. It’s all good fun. Well, Taken 2 certainly has many moments of unintended hilarity. But the rollercoaster is so sloppily constructed, one feels more than a little uneasy about getting on board.

It will make an absolute fortune.

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