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Liam Neeson more cartoon than man in Taken 2

There’s no need to wait for the MAD magazine parody of Taken 2.

It’s already hilariously up there on the screen. The first thing to be kidnapped is logic, as the action moves to Istanbul from Paris and Liam Neeson ridiculously reprises his role of avenging ex-CIA dad Bryan Mills.

The vein-popping Mills has turned into a human GPS unit, but he’s now more cartoon than man. He tracks leads that would leave an ace bloodhound scratching its fleas, and busts moves and baddies in ways more appropriate to a Scooby-Doo episode.

He does this despite the fact he’s the one who gets kidnapped this time, along with his lovely ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen). Amazing what a man can accomplish while manacled to a metal pipe.

People will call this a quick-buck sequel to Taken, the surprise hit of 2009, and these people are absolutely correct.

Unsubtle producer/writer Luc Besson knows this. So does his regular co-writer Robert Mark Kamen and their hired-gun director Olivier Megaton (Colombiana). They don’t give a rat’s derriere about it, as long as the cash register still goes ka-ching, which it will.

The irony is that the original Taken was supposed to be the cash grab.

It was intended for DVD-only in North America, after a desultory European theatrical debut. It had already leaked to the Internet months before it arrived on these shores, almost by accident.

But Taken added up to something more than the sum of its parts — and those parts include $225 million in worldwide box office, on an investment of $25 million.

Neeson surprised a lot of people with his action chops, and the story engaged on a primal level: a man using his formidable spy skills to rescue his teenage daughter, who had been kidnapped by Albanian sex traffickers while visiting Paris.

At 60, Neeson still has heroic form, and also the serious actor’s discipline to keep a straight face while negotiating a ludicrous script that spent more time on a photocopier than in a word processor.

His Bryan Mills thought he was done with Albanian sex enslaver Murad (Rade Sherbedgia, agreeably evil), since he’d left so many of Murad’s stooges in body bags after their last encounter.

He didn’t count on Murad wanting revenge, since one of those stooges was his son. When events conspire to bring Mills, Lenore and daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) to Istanbul on an impromptu family holiday, Murad hatches a payback plan to kidnap and torture all three.

You know he’s serious, because he weirdly spends his days in a trashed hotel room with a ruined piano. He possesses a seemingly inexhaustible supply of swarthy thugs, all lining up to get shot or head-snapped by Mills. (Murad also seems to have an endless supply of sons — hello, Taken 3!)

Some estrogen is added to the testosterone overkill. Kim becomes action girl by proxy, following her daddyo’s barked instructions as she evades pursuers, hurls grenades and drives a stolen taxi like a cabbie on crack — and to think she doesn’t even have a driver’s licence yet!

“Do you know how to shoot? Then drive!” dad says, when she reminds him of her unlicensed status.

Lenore isn’t so lucky, spending much of the picture unconscious and getting inexplicably left behind on more than one occasion by the task-minded Mills. But she is fully alert in one of the film’s most MAD-ready scenes, one where Mills gives her impossibly complicated instructions on how to evade their impending capture.

And how can you not smile at the baldly stereotyped Murad? Sherbedgia’s greatest exertion must have been resisting the urge to twirl his mustache. When an enraged Murad asks Mills why he killed his son, and Mills replies that the son kidnapped and abused Kim and dozens of other girls, Murad’s response roughly translates as, “Details, details!”

And don’t let those details keep you from enjoying this so-bad-it’s-good experience, which is funnier than most comedies.

If you go to the theatre with this in mind, you’ll avoid disappointment — and you won’t feel taken, too.

Peter Howell is a syndicated Toronto Star movie critic.

 
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