The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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October 12, 2012

Benji Tunnell: ‘Taken 2’ shows what not to do in action movies

JOPLIN, Mo. — I played on the company softball team last night. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but as I awoke with aching legs, scabbed-over knees and a mountain of shame for my on-field performance, I realized that I may have misjudged my overall effectiveness and ability to contribute to the team.

I came away with the same feeling for Liam Neeson after watching “Taken 2.”

I really enjoyed “Taken.” A middle-aged Neeson had made an action film far more compelling than those being made by actors half his age. I had hoped that he might be able to transition smoothly into another phase of his career, putting aside the serious actor mantle to make higher quality popcorn fare.

Then came mediocre films like “The A-Team,” “Unknown” and a couple of “Titans” duds, and I quickly relinquished that dream. Even when a sequel to “Taken” was announced, I was more apprehensive than anything. After all, how could the filmmakers convincingly put Neeson’s Bryan Mills in a position to have to rescue himself or another member of his family without it seeming ludicrous?

The short answer: They can’t.

“Taken 2” presents a class on what not to do in action films. For the benefit of my movie-producer readers, let’s take a look at a few of these lessons:

At least try to make it plausible. Mills ends up in Istanbul for a job, then invites his recently separated ex-wife and his daughter to come along for a vacation. Somehow, the father of one of the men Mills killed in the last film knows that he will be there (understandable) and that his family will be there, even though they never committed to the trip but decided to surprise Mills by showing up (ridiculous).

It all screams rush job to cash in, and it starts the film off on a sour note.

Jittery camera work and quick cuts don’t hide the fact that it isn’t your lead actor in the fight scenes. Neeson is getting older, so it’s understandable that he can’t perform his own stunts.

But director Olivier Megaton certainly could have been a bit more subtle when subbing out his actor for a stand-in. The blurry camera and nausea-inducing cuts serve only to highlight the obviousness of the substitution.

Don’t negate the motivations of the first film to allow for the sequel. Mills’ driving force in the first movie was to rescue his daughter from danger. Yet, in the second film, he asks her to essentially come to rescue him.

The Mills from the first “Taken” would not go along with this, and it is sheer laziness and unoriginality that allows the filmmakers to slap this together with so little justification.

Make foreshadowing believable. Early on, Kim (Maggie Grace) goes on a driving lesson with her dad. It seems she’s failed the driver’s test twice already.

Flash forward to Istanbul, where father and daughter are on the run from ruthless killers. Dad is busy shooting the baddies while daughter tears through the crowded streets full-tilt, making skilled slides and turns, all the while shifting the manual like, oh, let’s say Mario Andretti. That must have been a heck of a driving lesson.

Don’t make your sponsorship deals so blatant. Apparently, every vehicle in Istanbul is a Mercedes, including the taxi cabs, and these Mercedes are indestructible.

I imagine the producers got a pretty penny for featuring the cars, but it kind of takes away from the believability when you see the impoverished people milling through the streets while everyone is driving luxury cars.

Here are some lessons for the bad guys:

If you’ve captured a guy who single-handedly decimated your small army of henchmen, killing your son and destroying your human trafficking organization along the way, perhaps instead of just tying him to a pipe and leaving his legs free, you might break a kneecap or two. Just a little insurance to prevent him from escaping and executing your replacement bad guys before coming after you.

Have these people never watched “Misery”?

And maybe invest in a sturdy pair of handcuffs rather than zip ties that can be worn through by rubbing against pieces of the rusty pipe. Or how about having one of your men actually stay in the room with him? Most likely the greatest threat to you executing the man is the man himself.

Also, train your guys to shoot downward. Every time someone shoots through a wall or a door at a good guy, they always do it at waist level, even though if they’ve seen any movies at all they know he’s already dropped to the floor. Perhaps they should lower their aim.

“Taken 2” is one big lesson on what not to do when trying to capitalize on a property. Rather than take the time to craft a plausible yet engaging story, the filmmakers rushed to get another movie on the screen, and the results feel derivative and unsatisfying.

Rather than solidifying Neeson’s stature as an action star, this film shows that he should consider a return to playing more serious roles.

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