Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
Many of the reviews featured on Rotten Tomatoes brand “Taken 2” with words like “sloppy” and “lazy.” I thought it was about as lean and mean and intelligent as the other recent action movies from Chez Besson. While it’s not as well shaped or as shockingly reactionary as the first “Taken,” released back in 2008, it’s refreshingly sleek and no-nonsense, and it’s pretty darn satisfying as a piece of action movie craftsmanship. Director Olivier Megaton (“Transporter 3,” “Columbiana”) continues to refine his incisive action style, which works by forcing your brain to fill in the chunks that are missing between his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shots of elbows, fists, and fenders (he’s a bit like a cubist William Friedkin). A set piece which cross-cuts between the predicaments of Liam Neeson’s beefy ex-spy, his wife, and his daughter, and which ends with a clever melding of new technology (cell phones, GPS) and old (triangulation, smoke signals), is particularly satisfying: it’s like a souped-up reworking of a finale from some old two-reeler. The screenplay perhaps errs by having Neeson rescue his daughter with half an hour left in the movie, but that’s a relatively minor quibble.
Written and directed by John Hyams, “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” is an interesting, ballsy piece of filmmaking. It boasts a sordid, strip-clubby look, a buggy, subversive vibe, and some of the best-edited (and goriest) fight sequences in recent memory. Unfortunately, the narrative is so damn gnomic that it’s just about impossible to read any motivation into the characters. This combined with the logy mood and somnambulant pacing work to weigh the movie down; what starts out feeling novel becomes rather numbing. As near as I can tell the story concerns an army of bio-engineered killers, led by series regulars Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, who have rebelled against the government that created them (they’re steroided Tea Partiers). Scott Adkins, the British martial artist who suggests an everyman Chuck Norris, attempts to put a stop to their plans. But when it turns out that he, too, may be a fed-programmed killbot, Adkins begins to question his motives. It’s an ingenious, Chinese-box concept: a guy wakes up from his comfy suburban life to discover that he’s actually a super-potent killing machine . . . only to wake up yet again, this time to discover that he’s merely a patsy. And in some ways the movie seems intended as an “open your eyes” parable along the lines of “Total Recall,” “The Matrix,” and “Fight Club.” But its impact is dulled by its shortcomings as a narrative-emotional experience.