When Luc Besson is on top of his game, he can produce the type of action flick that Hollywood doesn’t seem to care about making anymore.  His love for the genre was vindicated at the U.S box office not long ago when Taken became an influential hit.  However, he also suffers from quality control issues, as recently shown by last year’s styish but extremely dumb and clichéd Colombiana.  It would be nice to say Taken 2 offers a return to the form established by its predecessor but this sequel is closer to the vapid extremes of Colombiana.

Taken 2 establishes its villain in the opening moments: Muran (Rade Serbedzija) is an Albanian crime-family partriarch whose sons were killed by Bryan Mills (Neeson) in the first film while he was trying to rescue his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace).  He swears vengeance and begins plotting for it.  The film then shifts to Bryan’s side of the story: there is tension between Bryan and daughter Kim because he meddles too much in her personal life and his ex-wife Leonor (Famke Janssen) has dumped by her hubby from the last film.

Bryan goes off on a mission to Turkey and invites Leonor and Kim to join him when his work is done.  At this point, Taken 2 becomes one long series of chases: this time its Bryan and Leonor who get kidnapped, forcing Bryan to call on Maggie to help him as he schemes for an escape.  He gets out, just barely, but has to leave Leonor behind.  Thus, the stage is set for the obligatory rescue and final showdown between dueling patriarchs Bryan and Muran.

There’s plenty of visceral thrills in the finished product but Taken 2 ultimately ends up feeling like a throwaway experience.  Despite having original screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen on board, the storytelling is uninspired and devoid of any feeling for its story or characters.  It apes the story structure of the first film with a minimal amount of changes and when it comes time for action, it settles for a thoroughly humdrum set of punch-ups, shootouts and chases.  There’s none of the characterization or moral ambiguity that added spice to the first film and adds nothing to the characterizations, often treating them more like action figures than people.

The direction from Olivier Megaton, the latest Besson protege, doesn’t help things.  He’s stylish in the most superficial way possible, laying on a music video visual gloss but showing precious little interest in the complexities of making scenes flow in an organic manner.  Any scene dealing with action or suspense passes by in a flurry of fast cuts – the opening titles are cut so tightly, they’re rendered incoherent –  and jittery handheld camera.  The results are disconcertingly like a Michael Bay film.

Megaton doesn’t show much inspiration with his cast, either: Neeson stoically muddles through the mess and Serbedzija, normally a lively presence, is reduced to playing a stock villain.  Grace gets more to do this time out because the plot’s one interesting wrinkle has her acting as her dad’s eyes and ears while he’s trapped.  She gives her all despite the ridiculousness of Neeson giving her absurdly over-complicated orders to follow while on the phone, sometimes jiggling in a bikini top (it’s that kind of movie).  Janssen sadly gets little to do here except get kidnapped and suffer.

In short, Taken 2 is a massively disappointing effort from Besson.  Not only does it show off the worst side of his producing style, it dishonors its genuinely inspired predecessor by subjecting it to the most obligatory and uninspired followup imaginable.