Friday 5 October 2012

Big wuss: "Taken 2"

Meanwhile, Hollywood continues to wuss out. The version of 2008's Taken I saw was either the hard 15 that emerged in cinemas after a classification fudge, or the 18-rated cut that was eventually released on DVD. The film was stupid (and retrograde, and xenophobic) as all hell, but it was at the very least committedly stupid: it punched and kicked its way into the minds of some neanderthal sector of the cinemagoing public, and dutifully became a very handy hit for its studio Fox, spawning first one of the better episodes of Family Guy in recent memory, and now the obligatory sequel Taken 2.

The first (some might say only) thing you need to know about the follow-up is that it's a 12A, suggesting the studio might now intend to turn Liam Neeson's burly ex-special forces op Bryan Mills into a Jason Bourne-like role model for teenagers with pocket money to burn and a secret yen to go round punching Albanians in the face. Bafflingly, however, the new film labours under the delusion that those who turned out for the first one wanted less of Big Liam doing exactly that - and here, he's given plentiful opportunity to do so, having been taken prisoner in Istanbul by Rade Serbedzija's dusky ne'er-do-wells in retaliation for the first film's carnage - and more of Maggie Grace's unbelievably dim damsel-in-distress, officially the stoopidest girl called Kim observed on screen since Jack Bauer's daughter exited 24, pursued by a cougar.

110 minutes were set aside for Taken 2's press show; the release print runs to a mere ninety, a discrepancy that would hint around twenty minutes of cutting were required to facilitate this particular paradigm shift. Nothing about this version, either before or behind the camera, makes sense. Franchise creator Luc Besson has hired Olivier Megaton to direct, but the film keeps having to cut away from or around Megaton's (as it were) gift for thick-eared action. (A precedent may have been set by last year's unexpectedly entertaining Besson-Megaton collaboration Columbiana, which retooled the action movie for teenage viewers.) 

All the car chases here pass through untended food stands and cardboard boxes, rather than enemy flesh-and-bone (I liked the stray doughnuts artfully arranged on Liam's rear window); the fistfights are reduced in the edit to a bloodless blur; and the explosions, when they come, are of the cheapest CGI. (Kim has been instructed to let her dad know where she is on her rescue mission by tossing hand grenades out of the window at regular intervals, like a less civic-minded Hansel or Gretel; frankly, you wouldn't trust her with even this rudimentary form of satnav.) One rooftop chase is a flat crib from Tom Tykwer's The International; elsewhere, the renewed emphasis on family leaves the franchise resembling a Spy Kids movie without the winning sense of humour. At one point, Liam's formerly taciturn Mills is required to speak the line "Don't go there, friend", like a best friend in a Queen Latifah romcom.

Audiences aren't supposed to mind this childproofing, or the intelligence-insulting plot points (cf. the dramatic purpose of Bryan Mills' barbequing buddies), because the formula is as simple - and simplistic - as it was first time round. Again, a Taken film boils down to this: these are the good guys, who look and sound like you - yay! These are the bad guys, who have dark skin and speak a funny language - boo! Let's face it, it's not as if there was a greatly promising franchise to ruin here, but all this reductionism does is further assert the right of grumpy Americans to stomp all over countless Eastern Europeans (hell, if you're really looking for a fight, countless Muslims) in defence of the most airheaded teenager ever put up on screen. Taken 2 is another reason for people to burn flags and set fire to embassies, and the world has quite enough of those as it is right now.

Taken 2 opens in cinemas nationwide today.

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