In 2008, Liam Neeson left behind serious roles like Oskar Schindler and Alfred Kinsey to star in the action-cheapie "Taken," about a former CIA agent searching for his kidnapped daughter. It was an unlikely career move, but Neeson's hulking, 6-foot-4 frame made him a brutally effective action hero, and his steely line about possessing "a very particular set of skills" became an almost Schwarzenegger-caliber quip. A rougher-than-usual genre film, "Taken" turned into a $145 million hit.
In "Taken 2," Neeson returns as Bryan Mills, as does Famke Janssen as his ex-wife, Lenore, and Maggie Grace as their daughter, Kim. This time they're in Istanbul, being hunted by vengeful relatives of the Albanian thugs that Bryan so ruthlessly dispatched. "He slaughtered our men, our brothers," fumes the patriarchal Murad (Rade Serbedzija, of Angelina Jolie's Bosnian War drama "In The Land of Blood and Honey").
It's a serviceable setup, but returning writers Robert Mark Kamen and producer Luc Besson can't conjure up the no-nonsense thrills of the original. "Taken 2" is nearly all nonsense, with villains so inept and slow-moving that there's little satisfaction in watching Mills take them out. The Albanians rig their victims for a slow death, then conveniently leave them unattended (have they never seen an episode of "Batman"?), and they sure take their sweet time responding to any threat. With a pistol in his face, Mills calmly produces a cellphone and holds a five-minute conversation before anyone thinks to stop him.
Replacing director Pierre Morel is Olivier Megaton (Besson's subpar "Colombiana"), who favors cartoon car chases over grim combat, thereby robbing Neeson of his menacing physicality. There's nothing close to the original's hilariously shocking moment when Mills calmly shoots a woman at her kitchen table. Even Neeson seems tired of it all. You can tell, because near the film's end he sighs, "I am tired of it all."
PLOT Former CIA agent Bryan Mills must once again save his family from harm. RATING PG-13 (violence)
PLAYING AT Area theaters.
BOTTOM LINE A wimpy follow-up to the hard-hitting original