Here’s an appropriate marketing slogan for this unnecessary third slog through Bryan Mills’ particular set of skills:
“This time, it’s the audience that gets… TAKEN.”
Seriously, how such a slight, subpar excuse for an action film franchise can become a global phenomenon speaks more to the star power of lead Liam Neeson than it does anything offered by producer/co-writer Luc Besson, partner in screenplay crimes Robert Mark Kamen, and director Olivier Megaton. That this savvy if sad trio has managed to make so much chicken salad out of this amount of cinematic foulness is unbelievable. On the other hand, Neeson is obviously game for anything Taken 3 requires of him, even if this time around the infrequent fisticuffs are built around a narrative overloaded with misdirection and multiple red herrings.
Relocated to Los Angeles, Mills (Neeson) soon finds himself in hot water when he is “framed” for murdering his ex-wife (Famke Janssen). As Inspector Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) tries to track him down, our ex-government operative eludes capture. Desperate to protect his now college-age daughter (Maggie Grace) from any harm, our hero must figure out who did it, why they did it, and how he can clear his name. Naturally, this involves a bit of butt kicking. And shaky-cam stunts. And a suspension of disbelief the size of Liam Neeson’s paycheck.
Listen, if you like the Taken titles, you’re already sold on this sullen threequel. We can argue all we want about the illogical plotting, staid characterization, less-than-effective action sequences, and numerous unnecessary asides, but none of that will keep you from plunking down your dollars and increasing the creators’ bottom line. Like a comfy old sweater or a familiar bottle of beer, this unassuming nonentity will offer some of the same experiences as the past without challenging you with anything new or novel. Indeed, distributor Fox is so aware of this material’s derivativeness that they’ve been using satiric viral marketing (the “12 Kills of Christmas,” “Stop Taking Liam Neeson’s Sh*t”) in place of traditional trailers.
So Taken has become a brand, and a bland brand at that. Back in 2008, it was slightly surreal to see the star of Schindler’s List as a middle-aged Arnold wannabe. Now, after dozens of dopey extensions of same (Non-Stop, The Next Three Days, A Walk Among the Tombstones), we’ve more or less forgotten Neeson’s serious side. Nothing about Taken 3 changes that, the script requiring little of Mills except the standard gruff phone mannerisms. You can just tell that Besson and Megaton are aiming for a big audience cheer when our hero tells Dotzler “good luck” when the copper mentions the various agencies after him.
What this supposedly finished franchise could really use, aside from a far more talented and skilled presence behind the camera, is a real investment in the situations. Since we understand that Mills has left multiple bodies all over Europe, his ability to outsmart a domestic threat is without question, and the inclusion of a new enemy (read: redundant Russian mobsters) does little to increase our concern. Instead, it’s all by-the-numbers nonsense, a must-be-January release that does little except trade on the audience’s lax attention span and their inherent appreciation of the leading man.
Yes, this is supposed to be nothing more than mindless entertainment, but in the case of Taken 3, our filmmakers forget the second half of that term. Instead of being interested in the outcome, we find ourselves simply waiting for the next implausible shoe to drop. If there ever comes a time when Besson and company decide to resurrect this character, they should take their cues from the recent Denzel Washington effort The Equalizer. There, our over-the-hill hero dishes out his vengeance in healthy doses of bloody good fun. Here, it’s just more of the mediocre same.