Liam Neeson was the first and only reason Taken was such a sleeper — who the hell expected Michael Collins to loosen his necktie and pulverize three-quarters of the Albanian human-trafficker population with his bare hands? Neeson's second spin as an unbreakable (retired) CIA neck-snapper, overseen by slick action specialist Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3, Colombiana), has all the gunfights and auto chases your adrenaline-addled heart desires, but it's missing the dogged undercurrent that made the 2008 original so magnetic.
Dealing with the reality that his saved-her-once little girl Kim (Maggie Grace, aging backward) will soon have a license and already has a boyfriend, Bryan Mills (Neeson) is locked into full-bore beleaguered daddy mode. But he still takes on high-profile private security gigs, one of which brings him to Istanbul, where Kim and his newly single ex Lenore (Famke Janssen) surprise him with a visit. Cue the glowering Eastern European muscle, led by the father of a slain thug (Rade "Slavic Bad Guy" Serbedzija) seeking revenge for the wicked son Bryan murked in the first movie.
Megaton's handle is brightest in streets and back alleys, with tight, energetic sequences that come close to capturing the vigor of Pierre Morel's goes-down-easy original. But there just seems to be far less at stake in the sequel, which forces no issues in spite of Neeson's effort to convince us otherwise. The bullish tactics of our dad-aged badass, such great fun in Taken 1, are barely employed here, mainly because the villains aren't wicked enough to require them.