Whatever novelty there was watching Neeson go commando in 2008's "Taken" is gone in the sequel, a mix of third-rate action, dreary family melodrama, laughable bad guys and even more laughable plot devices.
"Taken 2" is so bad it feels as though producer and co-writer Luc Besson swept up odds and ends cut from the first movie and slapped them together between a few new scenes shot with Neeson's retired CIA guy Bryan Mills, his daughter (Maggie Grace) and ex-wife (Famke Janssen).
The original was relentlessly paced and just flew by. The sequel is about the same length yet takes its good old time putting the villains and viewers out of their misery.
Besson and director Olivier Megaton ("Transporter 3") pad "Taken 2" with really awful reconciliation moments between Mills and his family, and once the action finally kicks in, it's nothing but repetitive kill shots to the head, snapping of necks and poorly edited hand-to-hand fights.
The giggles start in the opening moments as a group of Albanians mourn their dead - all the thugs Neeson's Mills killed in the first movie for kidnapping his daughter in a prostitution ring.
"The dead cry out to us for justice!" proclaims family patriarch Murad (Rade Sherbedgia). "We will have our revenge!"
Murad assembles a seemingly countless gang of rogues to go after Mills in Istanbul, where he's just finished a security job and is taking some down time with daughter Kim (Grace) and his ex, Lenore (Janssen), who's newly separated from her second hubby.
They're such amateurs, Murad and his boys, that it's like watching Mills shoot puppies in a pet store window as he takes them out individually and in bunches. There's little sense of peril to Mills and his women, even Lenore, who spends much of the movie bound and whimpering, with knives at her throat (what fun for Janssen this job must have been).
The filmmakers decide to promote Grace's Kim from whimper-woman in "Taken" to her dad's apprentice here, with pretty silly results. Under Mills' guidance, Kim tosses live grenades indiscriminately around Istanbul so her dad can use the explosions to triangulate the position of Murad's lair.
Seriously. That's how dumb the movie is.
There was something primal about "Taken," a father putting all his brains and brawn into saving his little girl, and doing it with startling ferocity and ingenious trade-craft.
Neeson just looks like he's yawning his way through a light workout here, using one big Irish paw to snuff goons and holding the other one out to the studio for his paycheck.
This is old-style sequel mentality. Do a quick, crappy replay of the original, dump it in theaters and grab whatever cash you can before fans realize they've been had.
Studios still make crappy sequels, yet they usually take some effort to raise the stakes and bring something new these days. No one's taken any such effort on "Taken 2."
"Taken 2," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sensuality. Running time: 92 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.