Taken 2 (2012): Sequel Thriller, Starring Liam Neeson

Four years after “Taken,” the same movie is essentially reborn in the form of “Taken 2,” except that it’s worse in every aspect of the filmmaking process, from narrative and characterization all the the technical execution.

In this derivative, exploitative sequel, the estimable Liam Neeson returns as retired CIA man Bryan Mills, who of course keeps getting pulled back into the game. Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen are also back as his daughter, who’s now growing up fast, and his ex-wife, who’s going through another breakup, respectively

After a slow reintroduction in Los Angeles to some stale family dynamics, “Taken 2,” written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, kicks in with Mills inviting his daughter and ex on vacation in Istanbul. Mills’s ten-second history lesson for his daughter on Istanbul is unfortunately the city’s only chance to shine as a character: the real reason it’s in “Taken 2” is just to offer up its narrow streets for the regular wild car chases, not much more.

Soon Mills and his ex are kidnapped by nasty Albanians seeking revenge on him. In the first film, Mills’s daughter was kidnapped, so this is basically the same ho-hum plot all over again. This family apparently has some kind of karma with kidnapping.

Mills luckily has a miniature cellphone with him, which he uses to alert his daughter and help her to rescue him and her mother, who winds up near death, being badly beaten and rebeaten, for most of this movie.

In the middle of this crisis, Mills’s daughter tries to engineer a reconciliation between her parents, which will likely be hard for viewers to buy considering the lack of connection the actors have as a family. It almost seems the actors are trying to remember, unsuccessfully, whatever happened in the first movie.

“Taken 2,” directed by Olivier Megaton, is no real family drama—it’s all about the fight scenes and aforementioned car chases. In the best chase, Mills’s daughter, who has yet to pass her drivers test back home, has to take the wheel of a stolen taxi with Dad in the passenger seat: car chase plus extreme driving lesson, a clever one.

There is dialogue here and there, but it’s all terribly written and, on a regular basis, unintentionally comical. More than a few sequences defy believability, especially one in which Mills directs his daughter by that mini-cellphone to throw grenades all over Istanbul.

The daughter’s bid to become an action hero herself is the height of silliness. It doesn’t take this California girl long to start racing around Istanbul in a bikini while brandishing a gun and jumping from rooftop to rooftop. It’s in her genes?

Neeson’s his usual self: lots of rage coming through in those whispery growls. He’s basically supposed to be an everyman who loves his family above all else and is ready to kill countless Albanians without a second thought to protect his ladies. But near the end of the movie, he sadly declares, “I am tired of it all.”

Is this how Neeson feels about his career at this point? After the original “Taken” in 2008, he started heading deeper into knockoff action territory. In the last couple years, he’s been the lead in films like “The A-Team” (2010), “Unknown” (2011), and “The Grey” (2012), becoming a modern-day Charles Bronson.

Will Neeson continue in this vein or try at some point (hopefully soon) to return to the serious work that had  distinguished his career in the 1990s? That’s when he starred in such acclaimed films as “Schindler’s List” (1993) and “Michael Collins” (1996).