Taken 3 (2014) / Action-Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for brief strong language
Running Time: 109 min.

Cast: Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Maggie Grace, Dougray Scott, Famke Janssen, Don Harvey, Sam Spruell, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, Dylan Bruno
Director: Olivier Megaton
Screenplay: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen

Review published January 10, 2015

I really don't understand why some critics and fans think the sequels in the Taken series are vastly inferior to the original.  I think all three are horribly written efforts.  Perhaps it's all the element of surprise, as we didn't know that Liam Neeson (A Walk Among the Tombstones, A Million Ways to Die in the West) could be such a formidable action hero. Now that we know he can, we've come to expect something more.  Regardless, I maintain the first Taken is also not a good movie, so my expectation are the sequels will not be either, delivering good action, bad drama, and eschewing all logic.  Those who've convinced themselves that the first entry is some sort of action masterpiece will be less kind than I'll be to their equally idiotic follow-ups.

Neeson plays ex-CIA spook Bryan Mills for a third go-round, this time appearing in a very Fugitive-like action-thriller in which his beloved ex-wife Lenore (Janssen, The Wolverine) is found dead in his apartment and he becomes prime suspect #1.  Bryan elides the police, headed by Detective Franck Dotzler (Whitaker, Black Nativity), in order to find out who did it on his own and exact revenge, plus protect his now-pregnant college-student daughter Kim (Grace, Knight and Day) from potentially being the next victim in what appears to be a payback operation involving Lenore's high-roller husband, Stuart (Scott, Hitman), and some cutthroat Russian mobsters.

Taken 2 director Olivier Megaton (or as I call him, Olivier Megaturkey; his real name is Olivier Fontana) returns for another slick, glossy, fast-cut outing, which further ramps up the action quotient to James Bond-worthy levels of absurdity.  It's not exactly worse than the two films that have come before, but it does feel a bit off, especially in the characterizations of bored housewife Lenore (who suddenly reveals her hidden crush on her ex), as well as Stuart, who is recast with a different-looking actor, Dougray Scott, and has a personality completely at odds with the nice guy he was in the first effort.  And as for Bryan Mills -- well, he's more a superhuman magician at this point, managing to always find secret escapes, and survive car crashes, massive explosions and a shower of gunfire with hardly a scratch, and hardly an explanation.

The police involvement, an element that had been strangely lacking in the first two films, is merely here as a plot device.  Such contrivances as the consumption of warm bagels, tattoos no criminal would dare sport for easy identification, GPS tracking of anyone at anytime, and security cameras in the most convenient places, are just some of the methods they use to try to crack the case. 

Like so many franchises do when they run out of gas creatively, they just crank up the noise and explosions, and Taken 3 is not an exception in this regard.  Action-lovers will be content enough, but this already formula franchise is beginning to lose distinction among action flicks, and continues to feature progressively dumber characterizations and plot.  It's not even about a kidnapping, despite the title -- there's one person who is "taken" (reportedly, Neeson would only agree to return if there wasn't another hostage rescue), but it's only shown in a flashback from a security cam video.  The frame-up job involves someone having to find a way to sneak a text message between Bryan and Lenore, punctuated by the absurd notion that people would actually type their names at the ends of their messages, in case the person on the other end didn't have the name of the person who holds them dearest programmed in their contacts.

Though the first film has its share of fans (I am not one of them), if this franchise is ever going to get good, it's going to take the dumping of the creative team of Besson and Kamen (Bandidas, Transporter 2), and finding a much better director of thrillers than Megaton, who only knows how to do one thing: make loud and sparkly action sequences.  Anything in between is ham-fisted and cheesy.  Though quite violent, it's done with a definite eye for garnering a PG-13 rating, which is often absurdly bloodless (one key shooting even has a character take a couple of bullets to the body in which we see the bullet holes but not a drop of blood!).  Meanwhile, countless rounds are expended at beefy 6'4" Liam Neeson, but almost none come close to hitting their mark.

If you've seen your share of Luc Besson-scripted projects, you will probably glean by now that his attempts to replicate Hollywood-style action flicks consists of having a certain contempt for the audience in thinking they'll swallow any plot contrivance as long as the action scenes are good.  I think after three films, we deserve something more than continuing to shoehorn the same characters into a ready-made, derivative plot.  If not, Taken for Granted should be the next title in the brain-dead franchise for the millions of fans who continue to stick with it.

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo