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'Taken 2' grabs a few thrills

11:34 AM, Oct 5, 2012   |    comments
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Liam Neeson poses before a press conference to promote his film 'Taken 2' in Seoul on Septmeber 17, 2012. (JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/GettyImages)

(USA Today) -- From title to catch phrases, Taken 2 makes no bones about being a follow-up to the 2008 French thriller that made Liam Neeson our favorite middle-aged action hero.

And for about half of this sequel, the approach works just fine. At times, Taken 2 even steps from the shadows of the original with some terrifying imagery and an improved relationship between father and daughter.

Alas, the movie can't help but descend into a pat part two, bereft of much suspense or tension.

It's not enough to undermine Taken 2 as a serviceable action flick, thanks to Neeson's utter believability as a divorced dad trying to stay pertinent in his child's life. But what a sequel it could have been.

Neeson reprises his role as retired CIA operative Bryan Mills, a guy who could kill a man with a ballpoint pen but can't watch his little girl grow up.

Neeson shines in scenes as an agent unable to shake his methodical ways. He's still to-the-minute punctual and a bloodhound at heart. But his unshaven face and puffy eyes belie a tired spy, and help make Mills painfully relatable.

Taken 2 starts with a simple, chilling premise: the legion of men Mills left dead four years ago had fathers, sons and brothers. And they want revenge.

Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen (who teamed to write the first film), the intro bristles thanks to Rade Serbedzija, who plays Albanian crime lord Murad Krasniqi. He's got the sneer and scowl of a garden-variety Hollywood villain, but he's also got a secret weapon: real motive. His speech at the burial of his son is enough to suggest our operative is in real trouble.

But then director Olivier Megaton (Columbiana) makes an odd call. A security job sends Mills to Istanbul, where the film makes a hokey excuse to bring along Mills' daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), both still traumatized by Kim's abduction four years ago. Why not have these killers descend on Mills and his family at home, a much more menacing proposition than meeting them halfway across the globe?

Of course, then you wouldn't have an excuse for the picturesque rooftop chase scenes, of which this film has too many. And police in Europe don't seem to show up for explosions and gun battles like they do in the United States.

The cliches ultimately overtake Taken 2. Mills' pining for his ex-wife borders on the preposterous, and the action scenes are cut so quick as to be hard to follow. Taken so desperately wants to be a Bourne-style franchise there's little doubt where the movie is headed.

Still, there's enough DNA from the original to keep Taken 2 afloat, and Neeson has become a thinking-man's action star. Taken 2 is a rehash of the original. Fortunately, they're leftovers from a fine first course.

Taken 2 gets * * 1/2 stars out of four.

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