RARELY HAS THERE been a more out-of-nowhere hit than "Taken," which opened in the traditional dumping ground of February, then racked up a fat $100 million.
An underserved demo suffering major action-star withdrawal suddenly found one in the unlikely form of hulking Liam Neeson, a refugee from respectable movies, and there is no doubt that part of the kick of "Taken" was seeing Oskar Schindler, Alfred Kinsey and Ethan Frome beating the tar out of people - all under the nimble direction of French action genius Pierre Morel.
Watching the sequel with a stoked all-ages audience, though, you feel something else at work - the way the original tapped into something elemental and powerful, perhaps best summed up as: Oh yeah? Wait till my dad gets here.
Makes sense - since half the movies in theaters are about de facto orphans and the longing for a missing father ("Hunger Games," "Harry Potter"), it follows that a fantasy about the world's most heavily armed, insanely protective dad would find a robust audience.
Neeson's Bryan Mills killed half the slave-trading mobsters in Paris to rescue his daughter in "Taken." In "Taken 2," surviving relatives of the same mobsters go after the entire Mills family as they vacation in Istanbul - dad, daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), perhaps on the cusp of reconciliation with Bryan.
"Taken 2," then, doubles down on the appeal of the punching patriarch. (The family that's kidnapped together stays together.) In the process, Mills fights to save both daughter and wife and kills another 50 Albanians.
The movie, alas, is mostly mediocre and was indifferently directed by someone purportedly named Megaton (French for Orson Welles?). There is not a single memorable action scene, and Megaton blows what should have been a crackerjack sequence - a scene of Mills teaching his daughter to drive turns out to be foreshadowing for a major chase scene in Istanbul (dad shooting and daughter driving), and the movie doesn't seem to understand that this should be funny.
On the other hand, "Taken 2" does something shrewd in liberating daughter Kim from damsel-in-distress mode, and there are some effective scenes of the girl joint-venturing with dad to track the abductors to their lair.
"Taken 2" even lays the groundwork for another sequel, notifying us that there are still more vengeful Albanian relatives not yet heard from.
All we need are more Millses to kidnap. Good news - Kim has a prospective husband. A grandchild cannot be far behind.
Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at philly.com/KeepItReel.