The following post contains SPOILERS.
I wasn’t a big fan of “Taken 2,” but I loved the idea of “Taken 2” for its sheer, brazen insanity: what are the odds that a group of Albanian human traffickers would tempt fate by trying to re-kidnap the guy who murdered most of their buddies? What are the odds a family that experienced such a horrific, traumatic ordeal in Eastern Europe would head to Istanbul, Turkey — just a hop, skip, and ten hour drive from Albania — for a relaxing vacation? What are the odds that Maggie Grace could wander around a heavily populated metropolis randomly tossing hand grenades, and not get stopped by police?
The odds are not very good — unless of course you have to make a sequel to “Taken,” in which case, they’re pretty much a lock. The first “Taken” was one of the surprise box office hits of 2009, earning more than $225 million worldwide. It was intended as yet another in producer Luc Besson’s seemingly endless supply of disposable action pictures; but with grosses like that, no one was ready to toss “Taken” away after just one go-around. And thus logic, caution, and common sense were thrown to the wind (along with many Albanian men), and “Taken 2” was born.
It’s far from the first time producers have tried to stretch a big hit into a questionable franchise. Here now are five of our other favorites. And by favorites, we generally mean the opposite.
Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997)
Directed by Jan de Bont
Sandra Bullock’s character from “Speed” had a better chance of winning the lottery while getting struck by lightning than stumbling into another hostage situation on a runaway vehicle orchestrated by a disgruntled man who’d recently lost his job, but hey — a movie where she wins the lottery and gets struck by lightning would make for a very short and tonally inappropriate sequel. Instead, she and her latest rock star daredevil cop boyfriend (Jason Patric) — who is in no way like the rock star daredevil cop from the last movie (Keanu Reeves) — have to stop Willem Dafoe before he kills everyone aboard a luxury cruise liner. The scenario made slightly (slightly) more sense when Reeves was originally set to reprise his role. After he passed, director Jan de Bont added a few lines about his and Bullock’s characters breaking up, gave Patric his dialogue, and then basically made no other changes to the screenplay whatsoever. Never has a movie’s subtitle more accurately describe the state of creative indifference that guided its production.
Highlander 2: The Quickening (1991)
Directed by Russell Mulcahy
“There can be only one.” That was the rule that governed centuries of combat in the original “Highlander,” where a race of immortal beings battled for the right to be the last of their kind and receive a mysterious prize. At the end of the first film, there was indeed only one immortal left — Christopher Lambert’s Connor MacLeod. Bully for Connor, but bad for the producers — if there’s only one, how can there be a sequel? Good question; one that’s sadly yet to be satisfactorily answered by any of the four sequels and two television series that have extended the franchise. In “The Quickening,” we pick up MacLeod’s story in the future, where he is now an old scientist who has helped saved the earth by building an artificial shield to replace the depleted ozone layer. Aliens from another planet send immortals to kill him because they want him dead but he kills them instead and he becomes young again and then he somehow brings Sean Connery’s dead character from the first film back to life just by saying his name and then more people are killed and MacLeod is the only one again but then they recut the movie because it didn’t make sense and erased all references to the aliens from another planet and then they made several more movies with more immortals even though he’d already killed all of them twice. Dear Lord, why couldn’t there be only one?
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)
Directed by Joe Berlinger
Much of “The Blair Witch Project”‘s success was predicated on unreplicable ingredients, like the fact that it was passed off as a “real” documentary about three actual college kids who got lost in the woods and were never heard from again. Naturally, “Blair Witch”‘s rights holders tried to replicate them anyway. Instead of creating another faux snuff film with another batch of witch victims (and since they couldn’t bring back the original cast, because they were still kind of pretending they were all dead), they abandoned the found footage gimmick, but kept up the pretense that the first film was real, and fashioned a sequel about a bunch of fans of the original “Blair Witch” traveling down to its shooting locations to find out what really happened. Suddenly a very grounded film was launched into the stratosphere of crazy, with ghosts and witches and orgies and videotapes that can only be comprehended when played backwards. Bonus implausibility points for the presence of real documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger (“Paradise Lost”), here directing the tradionally fictional sequel to a fake documentary. Anyone else’s head starting to hurt?
Weekend at Bernie’s II (1993)
Directed by Robert Klane
The story of two corporate flunkies tricking the world into thinking a dead man was still alive — and the life of a raging Labor Day party — was already a stretch. But a second story about the same flunkies tricking more people into thinking that the same dead guy was still alive? I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t hold up to intellectual rigor (mortis). It’s hard to believe someone greenlit this movie once, much less twice; there’s never been more convincing evidence of rampant drug use in Hollywood. Somehow original stars Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman were convinced to return, as was Bernie himself, Terry Kiser. In a wildly appropriate twist, the movie is about McCarthy and Silverman’s characters exploiting Bernie’s rotting corpse in order to secure a huge wad of cash (How did they find their motivation?!?). The least plausible part of maybe the least plausible film ever: they used Roman numerals in the title: “Weekend at Bernie’s II” instead of “Weekend at Bernie’s 2.” Because otherwise it wouldn’t be classy.
Crank: High Voltage (2009)
Directed by Neveldine/Taylor
Unlike Bernie, Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) is alive for most of his movie. Still, he dies in the end, in a surprisingly poetic moment of reflection and regret — a real accomplishment considering how grotesquely crass, vulgar, and sexist the rest of the film is. Chev’s death was not one of those cheapo cheats with a built-in backdoor, either: he fell hundreds of feet out of a helicopter. He landed so hard he bounced into the air. He was deader than Chester A. Arthur. Clearly, this story was never meant to continue — but an audience sparked to writer/directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s tweaked-out style, and a cult hit was born. Rather than shy away from the absurdity, the duo embraced it: literally scraping their dead protagonist off the pavement (with a cartoonishly oversized shovel no less) and reincarnating him with an electrically-powered artificial heart. That set the tone for everything that followed, as Neveldine/Taylor (wait for it) cranked up the gore, violence, and stupidity in gleefully anarchic fashion. Freed from the bonds of logic, they distanced themselves even further from reality with dream sequences and outlandish characters. If we’re lucky, they’ll do it again with even less plausibility in “Crank 3: Apt Pupil,” in which Statham’s eyeballs are replaced by robo-lasers he must keep constantly lubricated with special drops made out of leprechaun tears.
Honorable Mentions: “Shock Treatment,” “U.S. Marshals,” “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” “Die Hard”s 2-Infinity.