It's a scary thing, fraught with tension and drama, teaching your kid to drive. "Ease up on the brakes!" "Turn left here!" "Use the side mirror!" "Plow through that cop car and gun it through those market stalls!"
That's pretty much how it goes for Bryan Mills, the dad, and daughter Kim, working the clutch as she tries to evade squads of Albanian thugs and Istanbul police vehicles, screeching down narrow stone streets in the rigorously formulaic and far-fetched Taken 2.
The inevitable - and unfortunate - sequel to 2008's surprise action hit starring Liam Neeson as an ex-CIA guy who must use all his wiles and skills to rescue his kidnapped teenage girl, Taken 2 finds the Mills clan back home in Los Angeles, safe and sound. For about 10 minutes.
Bryan, a bit of an obsessive-compulsive case (he buffs his own car at the car wash), is divorced from his wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), but they're still close, and he still drops by to give his daughter (Maggie Grace) driving lessons. Then he's off for a quick trip to Istanbul, a freelance security gig. And, surprise, Lenore and Kim decide to join him. The Turkish city - nestled on the Bosphorus between Europe and Asia - is a tourist's delight (and a filmmaker's, too), and maybe the mosques and ferries, the hotel spa and hot teas, will help rekindle Bryan and Lenore's relationship. Kim certainly hopes so.
But thanks to an ominous prologue set in the Balkan hills - a grim mass funeral, ending with a cry for blood and vengeance - we know that the family getaway is going to be short on rest and relaxation. Rade Serbedzija is the bereaved father of one of the abductors Bryan killed as he tried to save his daughter from sex traffickers, and now the Albanian criminal and his gang of cartoon mugs are intent on revenge. Nothing short of Mills' dead body will do.
Taken 2 has been directed by Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3, Colombiana - I will resist the temptation to call Taken 2 a Megaton bomb), from a script by France's hyperactive Luc Besson. When Bryan first suspects he's being followed, he and Lenore are on their way to see the sights, leaving Kim behind at the hotel. He spots the tail and urgently instructs his wife to leave the car and head for the arcade of shops ("When you exit the fabric store, turn right. . . . And stay focused!")
But one chase leads to another, and soon both Lenore and Bryan have hoods over their heads, hands chained to pipes. Luckily Bryan has a micro-cellphone tucked in his socks, and he manages to reach Kim and warn her - and then guide her through a series of field-op exercises by which she can determine his location.
Kim, after all, turns out to be her father's girl, bounding across rooftops, lobbing hand grenades - not exactly fearlessly, but full of pluck and determination. Grace is as convincing as the wobbly script allows, and at least the actress has something to do. Once Janssen's Lenore becomes a hostage, she's relegated to the role of helpless victim, spending a good part of the film in a state of semiconsciousness. Neeson is full of Neesonesque stoicism - a sad-eyed, somewhat scruffy action hero who can snap an attacker's neck with ease if he has to. And, boy, does he have to.
The moral of Taken 2? If you're going on a family vacation, be sure that the human-trafficking ring you put out of business in that far more satisfying and suspenseful thriller from a few years ago doesn't know how to find you.
And teach your kid how to drive a stick.
Taken 2 ** (out of four stars)
Directed by Olivier Megaton. With Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, and Rade Serbedzija. Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox.
Running time: 1 hour, 31 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, adult themes).
Playing at: area theaters.