Taken 2 Starring Liam Neeson. Directed by Olivier Megaton. M. ★★
Taking fans of action thriller Taken (2008) on a retread ride, Taken 2 is, as its title indicates, a copycat sequel - an utterly predictable piece of recycling with only a few minor changes to create a sense of watching something new.
Once again it stars Liam Neeson as ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills, who in Taken had to rescue his daughter Kim from kidnapping thugs. Hunting down people and killing them is what Bryan does best.
You can tick off this sequel's by-the-numbers approach: It establishes motivation for the new threat (revenge), a new location (Istanbul replacing Paris), then the rest falls into place - the kidnapping (Bryan's ex-wife Lenore, played by Famke Janssen), the rescue and exterminating the bad guys (hapless Albanians, a favourite fallback when Arabs, Russkies, terrorists and aliens are not the enemy).
The chief villain (Rade Serbedzija) is the father of a man Bryan killed in Taken, an evil piece of Eurotrash you half expect to say, Princess Bride-style to Bryan, "My name is Murad Krasniqi, you killed my son, prepare to die!"
The rest of the bad guys are typically stupid (fall asleep as guards or watch television) and of course bad shots.
Within this obvious outline, the gaps between connecting points are filled with action - running on rooftops, car chases in narrow, crowded streets, brutality and a big body count.
Bryan has opportunities to display his sharp antennae for danger and his ability to mentally track a route without sight (and remember it) - although his hiding advice for Kim (in a closet) seems lame and at one point abandoning injured Lenore seems unduly risky.
The movie employs folksy-family bookends, with Bryan shocked and concerned to learn his daughter has a boyfriend, even though she looks in her 20s (Maggie Grace, playing Kim, is 29).
Bryan's also teaching Kim to drive - and in Istanbul there's an unintentionally funny frantic pursuit with Kim driving and Bryan yelling directions at her, culminating in a moment which makes US embassy security look ineffectual.
The ending does add a new dimension, with Bryan intent on eliminating not only present but future threats, which the first film didn't include because, if successful, it would have denied a sequel.
So there is some interest in how that will be resolved - either preclude a Taken 3 (when maybe Bryan's new grandchild is kidnapped) or be thankful for even having a sequel payday and take the money and run.
The Words Starring Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid. Directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal. M. ★★★
Offering a different kind of copycat story is The Words, a layered literary-romantic drama with a matryoshka doll-like screenplay involving a story within a story within a story.
Its central tale about a literary fraud starts with popular author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) at a public reading of his new book The Words, which tells of struggling young writer Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), who finds an old lost manuscript and, wanting to succeed and be regarded as a great writer, especially by his wife Dora (Zoe Saldana), copies it word for word and passes it off as his own work.
His success attracts the attention of an old man (Jeremy Irons, the best of an adequate cast), who confronts Rory and tells how he wrote the book as a young man (Ben Barnes) in Paris shortly after World War II but his wife Celia (Nora Arnezeder) accidentally lost it (recalling a real-life 1922 Hemingway occurrence).
The moral and ethical dilemma Rory faces as a plagiarist is the main focus but becomes blurred in the messy interweaving of his story with those of Clay and a beautiful student-cum-literary groupie/predator (Olivia Wilde) who stalks him and of the young writer and his beloved Celia and what happened to them.
Each of the tales is adversely affected by the interruptions, especially the love elements - and the switching back and forth hinders them from connecting emotionally and holding interest after engaging at their outsets.
Indeed, the wraparound segment seems included only to suit an ending about the difference between truth (here called life) and fiction by raising questions about Clay's identity and whether his character Rory is real or made up.
Making their debut as writers and directors, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal fashion an ambitious, good-looking film that is initially intriguing but becomes more contrived than clever.
Ultimately it's more frustrating than satisfying.
But it has a lesson for budding writers: Always make a duplicate of your work.
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