Taken 2 and the state of action movies

Waiting in the movie theater to see Taken 2, I was kind of fascinated by the audience. I was seeing a midday matinee, so it makes sense that most of the folks in there would be older and/or handicapped. I mean, me too, right? What I didn’t expect was that the theater would be nearly full, or that most of the folks there would be women. My Mom and Dad have this deal, where they take turns picking what movies they’ll see.  Dad likes action films, Mom likes girlier fare; it’s all very gender-based. And they’ll each sort of suffer through the movies the other one picks.  But there were all these groups of quite elderly women crowded in there, maybe sort of disproving the whole ‘guys=action movies, girls=romcoms’ dynamic. My wife and I have never done that, mostly because I like everything, and don’t mind seeing movies she wouldn’t enjoy by myself.

Anyway, the Takens are kind of guy fantasies, but maybe more for older guys.  The first Taken movie was about Liam Neeson rescuing his kidnapped daughter–this one was about him rescuing his ex-wife. We guys do that, fantasize about the world of hurt we’d visit upon anyone who hurt our daughters or wives.  Or sons, obviously, but we do feel that ‘it’s my job to protect the women-folk’ imperative.  (Yeah, like I’d have a chance!  But I’m big enough to sort of look intimidating, though really a ten year old could take me).

I’m not Liam Neeson, in other words.

But it’s certainly true that Oskar Schindler has enjoyed a career renaissance as an action star.  Taken was a big hit, silly though it was, and this one’s a hit too, while being quite a bit sillier.  The premise is that Liam’s ‘Brian Mills is ex-CIA, ’cause of course those CIA guys are all major killing machines.   In the first movie, his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace, from Lost), on a vacation trip to France with friends, gets kidnapped by Albanian sex traffickers.  ‘Cause of course, it’s completely possible that hundreds of upper-middle class American teenage girls would just, like, disappear in France, without anybody noticing, or worrying about it, including the State Department, CIA, FBI, NSA, Seal Team Six, Mulder and Skully, the Secret Service agents who guard Warehouse 13, the Coast Guard. . . . Among the people untroubled by it, BTW, was Liam Neeson.  He wanted his daughter back; to heck with all those other teenage girls. It’s not until this movie that he invokes all those poor kidnapped coeds, and their horrible fate. In the end, it turned out the Albanians were planning to sell Kim to an evil Arab Sheik (obviously).  Then Liam shows up.  Piles and piles of dead bodies later, Kim’s safely home, and apparently launched on a nice responsible Miley Cyrus career path.

I honestly think that in both these movies, we’re supposed to see this major contrast between the wholesome family values of the Mills’ family and the evil viciousness of all those awful Albanians.  But it doesn’t work.  The ‘wholesome family bits’ are creepier and less believable than the action bits.  Kim has a boyfriend in the second movie, and puts up with her Dad’s major stalkerish issues with said boyfriend.  And should, ’cause the kid has this super untrustworthy smile.  Does anyone doubt that he’ll be the primary bad guy kidnapper in Taken 3?  Or that there’ll be a Taken 3?

I honestly thought Taken was the dumbest movie I’d seen in years, though it was also sort of fun, watching all those ‘splosions and gun battles and chase scenes and fist fights.  This one, though, my gosh, it’s like a neo-con Ugly American triumphalist wet dream.  It’s set in Istanbul, and really makes you wonder if anyone in the Turkish film office read the script at all.  My favorite moments:

Escaping from baddies, Kim and Liam steal some poor cabbie’s vehicle.  They then drive like maniacs through the narrow crowded streets of Istanbul, taking out any number of shops and street vendors’ carts and bystander automobiles.  The cops are after them, because Liam shot a cop earlier, mostly ’cause the guy had a gun and looked to be possibly in cahoots with the Albanians.  But that’s cool; our CIA are allowed to do that, just shoot local cops.  Okay, Dad and Kim are heading to the American Embassy. Kim driving, BTW, like she’d taken the Bourne movie car chase instruction course.  They get there, at which point they have two choices.  They can pull up in front of the Embassy and hope the US Marines guarding the place will protect them.  Or they can smash through the Marine barricade, hoping to survive hundreds of rounds from the Marine guards, and then turn themselves in. That’s what they pick, obviously.  You just would, right?  At which point, Liam makes one phone call to one of his ex-CIA buddies, who instantly clears the whole thing up with the US embassy in Turkey.  I got the giggles, imagining the phone call.  “Hey, you know the guy who just nearly killed about twenty marines, who you were shooting at, who the Turkish police want for killing a cop, who also stole a Turkish citizen’s car and destroyed thousands of dollars of Turkish shopkeeper’s merchandise?  Well, he’s ex-CIA.  So it’s all good, okay?”

Better than that, though, this: Liam and his wife (Famke Janssen, in an utterly thankless-wait to be rescued role), have been kidnapped by the Albanians. Kim, however, they missed.  So she’s out there, with her Dad’s gun and three hand grenades. (Don’t ask).  So Liam’s trying to figure out where she is.  So he tells her to toss a hand grenade out the hotel window.  She does, tosses it onto a parking garage where it destroys some luckless shmoe’s car.  Then she runs around the city tossing the other two hand grenades, so Liam can triangulate her position or something, based on the explosion sounds.  In other words, it’s totally okay to just detonate hand grenades in a densely populated urban area.  If you’re an American.

Of course, at the end, Liam kills the thirty or forty evil kidnapping Albanians, including the main bad guy, the terrific Croatian actor Rade Serbedzija.  And the Mills’ family enjoys a nice post-kidnapping milk shake in LA, joined by Kim’s boyfriend, who is grinning untrustworthily. I couldn’t help but notice that the Mills’ family all had chocolate milkshakes, while future kidnapper boyfriend’s was strawberry.  That has to mean something.

As ludicrous as these movies are, they do suggest where the Hollywood action movie is these days.  Summer, it seems, is more about special effects extravaganza’s, super-heros saving the universe.  Fall is more about human, personal stories, involving kidnapping, torture and death, to be sure, but also wholesome family values.  Coming attractions featured a whole bunch of movies that look almost as absurd as this one.  Including Bruce Willis, in a new Diehard movie.  Alex Cross, a detective movie starring, I’m not kidding, Tyler Perry.  ‘Cause America’s been clamoring for Tyler Perry, action hero, right?  Jason Statham, in Parker, based on Donald (sob!) Westlake’s vicious thief.  It gets better: a remake of Red Dawn, starring Chris Hemsworth in the Patrick Swayze role.  How do you make a Cold War paranoia movie twenty five years after the Cold War?  I guess we’ll find out.

But even those movies probably aren’t going to be as silly and stupid as Taken 2.  So there’s that.

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