2008’s Taken was a great neoconservative action hit and a perfect crystallization of hawkish Republican fantasy.  The marriage of the action film genre with this particular phase of American politics is natural, neoconservatism being in essence the application of the crowd-pleasing 1980s Golan-Globus sensibility to foreign policy; and Taken, with its Commando-esque story of scoundrelly Muslims kidnapping an American innocent to be auctioned as a harem slave and her father then unilaterally invading their space to raise some major havoc in retrieving her, was the ideal demonstration of the subgenre’s potential.

Now Taken 2 – or, as I prefer to dub it, Look Who’s Taken Too – takes up with the same characters having a new international adventure, but not every element that made the original work, unfortunately, is still in place.  The first sign that things have changed for the worse is that the opening credits roll (or jerk and wobble, rather) over American caskets coming back from overseas – a reminder that the War on Terror hasn’t exactly been cheap or easy.  Far from being a discouragement, however, the purpose of these death cargo shots is presumably to rouse Average Joe Republican’s xenophobic spite for proper appreciation of the white-on-brown beatdowns and bloodbaths that follow over the next hour-and-a-half.

It turns out that the surviving relatives of the Albanian slave traders exterminated in the first film actually have the nerve to hold a grudge and resolve to exact the mother of all revenges against the perpetually squinting Neeson (who I assume has eye trouble and was therefore forgivably incapable of reading the ridiculous script before signing onto the project).  The Albanians, thankfully, are a considerate sort of terrorists, and speak to each other in English for American moviegoers’ convenience.  Their plot to capture Neeson is sweetened when his daughter and ex-wife surprise him by showing up in Istanbul where he’s been working as a security expert.  In the event, Neeson and the ex-missus are the ones who get – gasp! – Taken Too, leaving the ditzy daughter in a position to help her father escape.

All of this is interesting, at least in terms of Look Who’s Taken Too‘s politics, as the revenge scenario acknowledges the existence of the phenomenon of foreign policy blowback.  Not one to back down from a hard punch in the face from reality, however, Neeson just goes all MacGuyver and Houdini and James Bond on the bastards, using a miniature cell phone he has hidden in his pants to call his daughter and hold an extended tactical briefing, giving her a byzantine set of instructions involving a map, geometrical formulations, and grenades thrown at random onto Istanbul rooftops so they can pinpoint each other’s location – none of which raises the suspicions of his guards, most of whom are taking a break from their plot to piously watch Osama bin Laden’s favorite sport, soccer, on tv.  The biggest unintentional smirk comes when Neeson instructs his daughter to try to get to the American embassy, because (the Benghazi debacle not having occurred yet when this movie was made), he assures her, “You’ll be safe there.”

Once he’s loose there’s no stopping Neeson, the one-man shock-and-awe operation.  The small businessmen of Istanbul emerge as the real and unsung victims of the story, with self-important Americans stealing clothes and cab rides, wiping out street vendors, blowing up cars and rooftops, and generally being rude and criminally inconsiderate tourists the whole time they’re there.  The Turks have it coming, though.  Their streets and people are dim and dirty, so that it doesn’t matter so much if they get trashed; and their hotel concierges and police are corrupt and in league with the Albanian white-slavers, so that little sympathy would seem to be in order for the country as a whole.

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Neeson goes through such a gauntlet of fisticuffs and gunplay to get to his daughter that, by the end of the film, he actually appears to be experiencing War on Terror fatigue.  Having vanquished all of the grandfatherly (and not very scary) villain’s disposable brood of brown bad guys, he announces that he’s tired of all the fighting and offers the cornered top man a chance at a truce.  He will throw down his weapon and leave in peace if the man agrees to an end of the vendetta-driven cycle of killing.  But what is this?  Has Neeson seen the error of America’s ways and pussied out in favor of Ron Paul all of a sudden?  Hardly.  Naturally, the Albanian agrees to the deal, but immediately proceeds to show himself unworthy of Neeson’s disingenuous show of trust, necessitating that he, too, like his minions, be given a quick lethal dose of export democracy in action, and proving that Muslims can never, ever, under any circumstances, be trusted, and have to be monitored (or occupied, preferably) at all times.

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Easily the most ludicrous scene in Look Who’s Taken Too, the ending is unsatisfactory and anticlimactic – somewhat like the War on Terror itself: high on build-up and the body count, but pitiably low in appeal and payoff in the final analysis.  Overall, this is as worthy a sequel as probably should have been expected – particularly when considering that it was directed by someone calling himself “Olivier Megaton”.  A fundamental weakness relative to Taken is that the sequel dispenses with the urgent countdown gimmick that made the first film so suspenseful, and that the idea of a kidnapped pair of divorced parents simply isn’t quite as compelling as an imminently Arab-threatened cherry.

Much of the film, too, both action and drama, also feels less immediate and more obviously staged than Taken.  With the exception of an Albanian’s threat to deliver the daughter into “the lowest brothel”, where she will be used until she is like a piece of abused meat that even a dog wouldn’t want – I laughed at that – the dialogue is unimaginative, and the fight scenes are overly choppy, confusing, and full of disorienting quick cuts – no doubt to obscure the fact that Neeson is way too old a gent to be doing all this stuff – but Look Who’s Taken Too still manages to deliver the sorts of cheap thrills that gave the original’s fans erections.  I’ll generously grant this one 3.5 of 5 possible crypto-fascistic crescent-stars for holding my interest throughout.  Somehow, though, I’m not as eagerly anticipating the inevitable sequel, Look Who’s Taken Now, in which the family pet gets dognapped by Red Chinese restauranteurs.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Look Who’s Taken Too is:

4. Anti-miscegenation.  These ones likes it rough.

3. Pro-family.  Neeson will do whatever it takes to protect his daughter, who actually hopes to facilitate the romantic reconciliation of her parents.  The new guy in Mom’s life has turned out to be a grade-A jerk.  (Expect Look Who’s Taken Now to end or begin with a touching, tearful wedding ceremony.)

2. Neoconservative/war-ambivalent.  The impression conveyed is ultimately one of nihilistic resignation at partial foreign policy failure but overall unrepentance.

1. Xenophobic/racist/anti-Muslim.  Even the women in the streets leer sinisterly from under their head coverings.

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