By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist March 16, 2011 at 12:12PM
Update: Well that was fast. Deadline reports Liam Neeson and Luc Besson have made nice and the actor is closing a deal to reprise his role.
We don't want to seem immodest, but generally speaking, it's rare that we're surprised that a film is a success or a flop. You tend to be able to read the tea leaves a few months in advance, and we're developing a gut instinct over time that's fairly accurate at separating the hits from the misses. But, as William Goldman once said, "Nobody knows anything," and there are times when even we are taken by surprise. For instance, as much as we adore the film, if you'd told us as we walked out of our first screening of "Black Swan" that the film would end up taking in more than $100 million at the U.S. box office, we'd have laughed impolitely in your face.
And, by the same token, there was "Taken." A low-budget programmer starring a star who, while admittedly well-liked, had never really been an action hero, the film was released in the rest of the world months before its U.S. release, was on torrenting sites weeks before, and was seemingly dumped by 20th Century Fox on Superbowl weekend 2009, traditionally as bad a time to open an actioner as you could think of. And, over and above all of that, the film was amazingly terrible -- a turgid, joyless, xenophobic thriller, with a baffling American Idol-style subplot, that had very, very little to offer outside of Neeson's typically stoic performance.
And somehow, against all the odds, it became a monster hit, taking in a mammoth $146 million at the box office, and adding another $80 million to that internationally; somehow, something about the pared-down premise, the admittedly well-cut trailer, or the appeal of seeing Oskar Schindler kicking ass and taking names, connected with audiences, and ever since, whispers of a sequel have been circulating. Finally, over two years since the original opened, some firm word has come in, but it suggests that the situation is fairly complicated.
Deadline reports that, while the film has gained traction in recent weeks, it's also hit a stumbling block in the reluctance of its star. Luc Besson, who produced and co-wrote the original, has come up with another script with Robert Mark Kamen, his writing partner on the first film, and he's appointed Olivier Megaton, the ridiculously-named helmer of the Besson-produced "The Transporter 3" and "Columbiana," as director of the sequel.
However, Neeson's not so eager; he's shot "Unknown," "The Hangover Part II," "Battleship," "The Grey" and, currently, "Clash of the Titans 2" back to back in the last year, not to mention doing promotional activity for "The A-Team" and "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," and is, according to Deadline, keen for a break. Besson, however, is adamant on shooting the film in Istanbul later this year, and has even gotten to the stage of drawing up a list of potential hardmen who could theoretically replace Neeson in the role, should it come to it.
The list apparently includes Neeson's "Schindler's List" and "Clash of the Titans" co-star Ralph Fiennes, comeback boy Mickey Rourke, Cockney favorite Ray Winstone, "Lord of the Rings" pin-cushion Sean Bean and perennial villain Jason Isaacs. None immediately have the iconic quality of Neeson in the role, and several may have prior commitments that rule them out: Bean is the lead in HBO's imminent "Game of Thrones," and is presumably under option for a second series, while Isaacs was recently cast in the sci-fi pilot "R.E.M."
It might not come to it: Deadline suggests that, in the last few days, it looks more likely that a deal would be struck for Neeson to return, allowing him to take time off and still shoot the film later in the year. Indeed, the existence of the story itself stinks of someone in the Besson or 20th Century Fox (who are likely to again distribute the film) camps trying to put pressure on Neeson and his reps to sign on. Either way, it seemswe're going to see a "Taken 2" (probably with Neeson on board), and we're only weeks away from finding out what scrapes Brian Mills' idiot daughter has got herself into this time.