Taken 3 is exactly what one might anticipate from an unnecessary sequel in a mediocre franchise. Even those desperate for a Liam Neeson action fix may be disappointed. The film, directed like its immediate predecessor by Luc Besson disciple Olivier Megaton (with Besson co-writing and producing), has all the earmarks of a 1980s thriller. That means lots of unnecessary action, fistfights, shootouts, car chases, and the occasional explosion. The end result is that Taken 3 might have boasted a retro feel if it wasn't for the spastic editing used to obscure transitions between Liam Neeson and his body double. To be fair, the movie isn't godawful or unwatchable; it's just overlong, tiresome, and redundant. It also reminds us that, despite some recent evidence to the contrary (The Raid 2, John Wick), the filmmaking industry hasn't entirely dispensed with mind-numbingly dumb action.
It would be untrue to say I was disappointed by Taken 3. My expectations were low; it met them. An appeal of Liam Neeson in this series has always been that, unlike many of his action contemporaries, he is a respected and accomplished actor. Neeson is no Schwarzenegger, flexing his biceps and struggling with the English language. He's no hulking Stallone, burdened by Rocky and Rambo. This is a man with an Oscar nomination and an impressive resume. He does these movies, one would suspect, for the paycheck. Taken 3 is the worst of the trio and Neeson is at his least invested. Sleepwalking might be an unfair way to characterize his performance but this certainly isn't an impassioned, powerhouse portrayal. In fact, after tragedy strikes early in the proceedings, Neeson seems largely unmoved by circumstances and, after a brief scene in which he composes himself, he moves straight back into action-Neeson mode.
Taken 3 transpires on American soil. I'm not sure where the actual filming took place but the setting is Southern California and at least some of the scenes were shot on location. Events occur a number of years after Taken 2. Neeson's Bryan Mills is amicably divorced from his wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen in what amounts to a walk-on cameo), who has moved into a contentious marriage with millionaire Stuart St. John (Dougray Scott). His trouble-prone daughter (played with perfect whiney damsel-in-distress élan by Maggie Grace), Kim, is pregnant with her boyfriend's kid, although she avoids telling Dad for fear that he won't handle the news well. One day, Bryan arrives home with a bag of warm bagels in hand to find a dead body lying on his bed and the cops at the door. Never one to go along peacefully, Bryan disarms the officers and takes off. While he's out running around trying to clear his name, the detective in charge, Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker), arrives on the scene and begins piecing together the truth and trying to stay no more than one step behind Bryan.
Taken 3, like Taken before it, borrows heavily from Hitchcock. In this case, the plot device is one of the Master of Suspense's favorites: The Wronged Man. In the previous two movies, Bryan has been tasked with the mission of rescuing his family. This time around, he is framed for murder and out to clear his name and bring the true miscreant to justice. Unfortunately, this leads to what is easily the most threadbare of three credulity-straining narratives. The villain in Taken 3 is also the least menacing of the series. Brian's guilt or innocence loses its importance as it becomes apparent that the police involvement in this story will have minimal relevance to how things are resolved. In fact, when it comes to the cops, their purpose seems limited to providing an action scene or two and bumping up the running time to well beyond 90 minutes.
When Taken arrived on U.S. screens in the early days of 2009, I wrote the following: "The filmmakers' approach is never to use a precision tool when a sledgehammer is available." Nothing has changed. Neeson remains grim and taciturn. The action sequences, while not ascending to the preposterous, physics-defying levels of The Fast and the Furious movies, are over-the-top. And the plot, to the extent that is has any purpose at all, exists to move Neeson and his co-stars from one set piece to the next. Taken 3 will satisfy a subset of action junkies, a smaller subset of hard-core Neeson fans, and absolutely no one else.
© James Berardinelli