Banish your preconceptions about Taken 2, the weekend’s top-grossing sequel to the 2009 hit Taken, starring Liam Neeson as ex-CIA dude Bryan Mills. Surely you remember Bryan, who saved his daughter’s virginity by killing an assortment of swarthy sex traffickers.
Taken 2 opens at the traffickers’ funeral, in a rural Albanian setting where the only women we can see are silent babushka figures who, we surmise, are too cloistered to know about the family business. So yes, this cartoonish thriller, about a virtuous American man pursued by a furious Albanian clan with a terrifying plan, is guilty of ethnic stereotyping. But it’s a lot more interesting than many reviewers led us to believe, and there are times when the Taken franchise (from the Luc Besson action factory) seems like a French author’s mischievous commentary on how Americans see the world.
Neeson’s character sums up the premise of Taken 2 quite nicely when he tells his fetching 19-year-old daughter, played by Maggie Grace: “It’s not you they want, Kim. It’s me.” In other words, it’s not about your sexuality, Kim, it’s about my … particular skills. Anyone who has ever been a 19-year-old girl seeking independence and sexual experience might be forgiven for thinking Taken 2 is a metaphoric fantasia about Dad’s deepest journey into denial.
Taken 2 is a family-friendly PG-13 action caper that wants to be about violence. “Good luck,” as one of the sex traffickers told Bryan in the previous film. Despite all the killing and the vehicular mayhem, sexual issues are at the heart of this sequel. Bryan’s anxiety about his daughter’s sexual autonomy is established almost immediately.
Bryan, who aspires grudgingly to a more liberal style of fatherhood, has a very specific set of hang-ups getting in the way of that. He doesn’t even trust Jamie, Kim’s dweebish, deferential boyfriend, played by Luke Grimes. After the harrowing events in Taken, all guys are potential suspects when it comes to his daughter. In real life, we would say that Jamie should be suspicious of Bryan, since his girlfriend’s dad has followed her to his home by secretly installing a device in her phone. While Kim’s quest for privacy is the norm, she quickly forgives her father’s snooping.
If Bryan and Kim were, let’s just say, Albanians, this behavior would look sociopathic and tribal. Since they’re white folks living in Los Angeles, they seem merely codependent.