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Friday, January 9, 2015

Movie Review: Taken 3

Third time is no charm for Bryan Mills' skills.

Taken 3
Review by Brandon Wolfe

Some franchises have a heck of a time justifying their continuing existence. While some films have premises conducive to repeat adventures, others are strictly one-shot-deals that simply aren’t built to spawn offspring. Die Hard was seemingly one of these films, but it somehow managed to buck the odds for at least a couple of sequels. More recently, someone got it into their head that The Hangover had trilogy potential when it very clearly only made sense as a single film. Now they’ve squeezed two sequels out of Taken, the 2009 sleeper hit where Liam Neeson used his now-infamous particular set of skills to take out the Eurotrash who absconded with his teenage daughter. Taken was a lean, satisfying, hugely effective action-thriller, but it was also a closed loop. When Neeson’s Bryan Mills got his daughter back, that was the logical conclusion of that story, until that story had to go and make a bunch of money. Thus there was Taken 2, a revenge thriller where the father of some of the goons Mills annihilated previously struck back at our hero’s family. It was rote and forgettable, but it also made a couple of bucks.

Now we have a third Taken, even more superfluous than the last. Where Taken 2 at least tied its plot into Mills’ previous exploits, affording itself a modicum of a reason for being, Taken 3 places Mills into an all-new story. Specifically, The Fugitive, except scrubbed of every speck of personality and craftsmanship that The Fugitive displayed. When ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen, who must have been on the set for 45 minutes, tops) is found murdered in Mills’ apartment, he realizes that he has been framed and uses those skills of his to evade the police as he sets out to conduct his own investigation into her death. Mills even has his own Gerard on his tail, in the form of lead detective Frank Dotzler (Forest Whitaker). Also in the mix is Lenore’s oily new husband (erstwhile Wolverine candidate Dougray Scott), and if you suspect that he might be somehow involved in his wife’s death, congratulations on having seen a movie before.


Taken 3 is completely bereft of ideas or energy. The original Taken succeeded primarily on two factors. First, the core of the story was a father desperately trying to save his daughter, a primal and powerful motivation that adeptly connected with the audience’s empathy. Second, the notion of Neeson as a badass action-guy was immensely novel at the time. Apart from dabbling in moderately action-glazed mentor roles in The Phantom Menace and Batman Begins, Neeson was still thought of as a dramatic actor in 2009. But at this point in the game, he now plays some variation on Bryan Mills roughly half a dozen times each year, having long since negated the novelty of him firing guns and cracking skulls. We now think of Neeson as the Steven Seagal of the modern era rather than Oskar Schindler. It’s all become old-hat, and now that Mills is taking on missions less dramatically compelling and more run-of-the-mill (run-of-the-Mills? Apologies) than before, what we’re left with is a flaccid exercise driven by an actor who’s run his shtick into the ground.

As the film ambles along from one action sequence to the next, it never picks up a pulse. Everything is on autopilot. The car chases, shootouts and throat-punchings are executed with drab half-heartedness, and the plot and villains are made of tissue paper. Maggie Grace is still around as daughter Kim, but for little reason other than to be weepy or sporadically placed in peril (she does learn that she’s pregnant in this one, so that’s something, I guess). Janssen is out of the picture so fast that you’d have to call her role a cameo appearance rather than a supporting part. Scott is so bland that you’ll want to hug Hugh Jackman for saving us from what could have been. Whitaker, a fantastic actor, is stuck in such a nondescript cop role that he adopts a recurring trait of playing with a rubber band, presumably to keep his boredom at bay. The film does give Mills’ trio of pals from the previous entries (Leland Orser, Jon Gries and the other guy) a bit more to do than they’ve had in the past, but none of it is memorable and they essentially vanish without explanation in the climax.


Then there’s Mills himself. Watching him in Taken 3, it crystallizes how dull of a character he is. In the early, domestically focused scenes (i.e. the parts where he isn’t clotheslining Adam’s apples), he’s a nonentity, with nothing to his demeanor beyond a bland joviality. In fairness, he was always a flat character, but the extent of it becomes much more apparent by the time a third whole film about him rolls around. Mills is barely even interesting as an action hero anymore. There isn’t one truly great villain takedown in the film and every fight sequence is a sloppy jumble of quick cuts. The character no longer registers on any level.

Taken 3, like its predecessors, rolls off the Luc Besson assembly line of low-rent action pablum. Coming on the heels of Besson’s summer hit Lucy, a hyperkinetic, completely bananas blast of revved-up nonsense, one wishes that some of that same exuberance had made its way into this inert threequel. Taken 3 has been billed as the final installment of the series, yet there isn’t any sense of closing-chapter finality to it. It feels like an installment, not a conclusion. Jettisoned into the icy box-office tundra of early January, the film’s earning potential will likely be lighter than that of its predecessors, perhaps mercifully sparing us further Takenings (incidentally, what exactly is it that’s being taken in this film? Lenore’s life? Our ability to stay awake?). To halt this series once and for all, Bryan Mills’ moneymaking skill needs to be taken out of that particular set of his. It makes him a nightmare to moviegoers like us.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Brandon Wolfe at @BrandonTheWolfe.

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