10/05/2012 07:00 am ET Updated Dec 05, 2012

Movie Review: Taken 2

How much bad luck can one family have?

Enough for a hit movie -- Taken -- and what I assume the makers hope is a hit sequel: Taken 2.

Taken starred Liam Neeson as Brian Mills, a security expert and former special-ops guy whose daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is kidnapped while on a vacation trip to Paris. So he becomes a one-man wrecking crew, smashing his way through a ring of Eastern European human traffickers who are about to sell his daughter to a sheikh as a sex slave.

In Taken 2, it's a few years later and Brian is a more regular part of his daughter's life. Indeed, he's teaching her to drive. He's also on friendlier terms with his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), inviting her and Kim to join him in Istanbul after he finishes his next assignment.

But the father (played by all-purpose villain Rade Serbedzija) of one of the traffickers he killed in Paris vows revenge against Brian and tracks him to Istanbul. His plan undoubtedly includes killing Brian's wife and daughter and making him watch -- before killing Brian himself.

But, as movie-goers who have watched Neeson's resurgence as an action hero (based on the surprise success of Taken) understand, you don't mess with the big guy. Or his family.

There's more boilerplate set-up in Taken 2, if only to bring late-comers to this series (which seems to close the door on another sequel) up to speed. As if there's a lot to figure out. Once the bad guys make their move, then this movie -- produced and imagined by French action auteur Luc Besson -- turns into a vengeance machine, not unlike Brian himself.

The action is crunchily compelling: a mix of hand-to-hand encounters and automatic-weapons fire. It's really about Neeson as the irresistible force encountering a lot of extremely moveable objects.

The role seems built for Neeson -- but may also be a trap for him: the quiet, pissed-off guy with a Swiss Army-knife's worth of skills, all of them deadly. He could play this role in his sleep but, so far, has chosen not to.

Grace also gets to step up, as the daughter who has to follow in her father's footsteps. That whole driving thing pays off later in the film in a big way. On the other hand, Janssen -- as physically formidable an actress as there is working today -- must content herself playing a damsel in distress, minus resources.

Taken 2 doesn't have the element of surprise that Taken did, but it understands what it's there to do: to make carnage suspenseful and revenge dramatic. And, in the most elemental way, it succeeds.

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