Liam Neeson is back in action as retired ex-covert operative Bryan Mills in Taken 3, a preposterous but entertaining sequel that tops Taken 2 (no one is tossing live grenades from city center rooftops so Mills can get a vague sense of his location here) but fails to come anywhere close to 2008’s lean and well-executed original Taken.
That film re-invented Liam Neeson as an action hero, and I think its success is also responsible for the current wave of senior citizen action vehicles that have revived the careers of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others. When done right, there’s something satisfying about seeing these old-timers kick some serious ass.
Taken 3, unfortunately, is not quite done right. I can forgive the clichés, the ridiculous story mechanics, and the giant leaps of faith the plot requires us to take. But there’s one thing an action movie needs to convincingly deliver: the action. Through infrequent car chases, foot chases, gunplay, explosions, or hand-to-hand combat, Taken 3 consistently fails to sell the action.
The original film legitimately turned Neeson, now 62, into an action star; throughout this sequel, director Olivier Megaton seems to be concerned with hiding the fact that he isn’t. During action scenes, the film turns into a jumbled mess of handheld camerawork and rapid-fire editing: Neeson, clearly, isn’t the most comfortable on foot, and an early Cops-like chase sequence generates some unintentional laughs.
Whereas the first two films followed roughly the same formula – abduction in a foreign city (Paris, and then Istanbul) – this one shuffles things up a bit, becoming a low-rent version of The Fugitive. Having not seen or read anything about the movie, I was actually surprised at where screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen took these characters in the first act, something that won’t be new for anyone who has seen the first 20 seconds of the trailer.
In any event, Neeson becomes the Harrison Ford character from The Fugitive after being implicated in a murder he didn’t commit, while Forest Whitaker fills in for Tommy Lee Jones. As Mills takes it on the lam to try to prove his innocence – there’s even a sewer sequence – Whitaker’s detective (credited as “Franck Dotzler”) keeps an eye on Mills’ daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), hoping he’ll contact her.
Dotzler, however, doesn’t have much to do here – he knows Mills is innocent from the moment he steps foot in the crime scene and munches on a warm bagel left behind. That’s right: he literally eats the evidence left at a crime scene, and then hours (days?) later he dips back into the same bag – now the bagels are cold! Of course, this proves Mills’ innocence. Somehow.
Not that Dotzler fills in his detective pals about this revelation; no, he lets them chase after this ex-covert ops specialist and get manhandled in the process. Mills assaults no less than a dozen police officers during the course of the film, causes a massive freeway accident that ends with the freight of an eighteen-wheeler crushing multiple vehicles (almost certainly resulting in deaths, though the cars seems to be empty), and flat-out murders a variety of other baddies, leaving plenty of evidence and witnesses behind.
But, hey: he was innocent of the initial crime. All these other crimes he commits in order to prove his innocence are just collateral damage.
Bad sign: the stepfather from the original film, played by Xander Berkely, is re-cast with frequent-villain Dougray Scott and set up in early scenes as an asshole. But the movie wouldn’t be that obvious, would it?
In all, Taken 3 is fun for a while, and moves pretty fast even if the climax is more drawn out than it needs to be and the action sequences flat-out don’t deliver. But it’s a decent enough genre time-waster that’s undeserving of the critical bashing it has received, and with another $40 million January opening weekend, it probably won’t be the last in the series despite the filmmakers’ claims otherwise.