2015, PG-13, 109 mins.
2015, PG-13, 109 mins.
Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills / Famke Janssen as Lenore / Maggie Grace as Kim / Forest Whitaker as Franck Dotzler / Dougray Scott as Stuart St John
Directed by Oliver Megaton / Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen
It could easily be argued – and with reasonable levels of merit – that TAKEN 2 was completely unnecessary. It was, after all, a sequel that existed primarily to make a buck and to reap the benefits that 2008’s TAKEN created after becoming a sleeper action film hit.
The first film was a lean, mean, and efficiently done thriller involving a clandestine CIA man with “a particular set of skills” that had to save his daughter from evil European sex slave traffickers (every daddy’s worst nightmare scenario). TAKEN 2 felt superfluous at best and was perfunctory from beginning to end, but it relished in showing star Liam Neeson – a dramatic actor that sort of re-invented his film career as a middle-aged action hero with the first TAKEN – becoming a one-man army yet again to save his family from dastardly Albanians.
Both films were
trash, but wickedly enjoyable trash.
Now comes the
inevitable – yet somewhat laughable – TAKEN 3, which, much like its
direct predecessor, really has no motive for existing outside of financial
imperatives for the studio that wants to continue to cash in on this
surprise juggernaut of a franchise. I
derived much giddy pleasure in seeing Neeson mow his way through most of
Paris in the first film and, to be fair, it was sinfully entertaining
seeing him do much of the same in TAKEN 2 (granted, the hero was the
one taken with his family to change things up a bit).
Yet, in TAKEN 3 no one is really “taken," per se, as much as
Bryan Mills is one the run as a fugitive for a crime he didn’t commit,
which leaves one pondering the validity of the title in the first place.
Series creators/writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen are
clearly running out of novel ideas for the franchise, which leaves
desperation tainting TAKEN 3 in more obvious ways than ever.
So, yes, to use the word taken in this film's title is more than than a tad misleading, but THE FUGITIVE was already…ahem…taken. Another misstep here is that TAKEN 3 takes place ostensibly on American soil, which robs the series of its B-grade, Eurotrash action cinema flavoring. The film begins soon after the events of the second film and continues the story of the single unluckiest family in movie history, showing patriarch Bryan (Neeson, still as reliably stalwart and wonderfully imposing as ever) dealing with his wife Lenore’s (Famke Janssen) new marriage to millionaire Stuart St. John (Dougray Scott). Bryan has grown chummy with his ex, which leads to Stuart politely asking him to leave her be…for the time being. To complicate matters is the fact that Bryan’s daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is pregnant, but is hiding it from her father.
Cue soap opera music here.
After having an
awkward, but fairly amicable conversation with Stuart about the need to
give Lenore some space to allow her new marriage to work, Bryan comes home
one day to find that Lenore has been murdered in his own apartment and it has
essentially been set up to make it look like he was primarily responsible.
Of course, Bryan dispatches with the officers on the scene with
ease and escapes custody, which leads to him going on the run to
desperately attempt to clear his name.
Pressures mount, though, when a shrewd and cunning police detective
(Forest Whitaker, in his umpteenth police detective role) arrives to piece
together the peculiar series of clues left behind that will either
incarcerate Bryan or set him free. Thankfully,
Bryan has CIA pals, an underground safe house, and ample access to caches
of weapons and spy surveillance gear to help him stay one step ahead of
the collective wits of the police.
Okay, as for TAKEN 3’s positives…Liam Neeson still remains the proverbial man.
At 63-years-old, it’s still kind of an awe-inspiring trip to see
the former Oskar Schindler and Alfred Kinsey dexterously beat his way
through human obstacles throughout this entire ludicrous series.
The fact that I’ve invested myself as fully as I have in the
franchise is a testament to the unending charisma of its lead star, who
crafts an action hero that goes refreshingly against the mould of the
muscle bound and chiseled human specimens that have populated the genre
of old. That is not to say that Bryan Mills is a thespian challenge
for the Oscar winning performer, to be sure.
Yet, not many esteemed dramatic actors of his creed could be such a
plausibly stoic, grim, and sturdy presence in such a woefully ridiculous
action series like Neeson. He’s
the glue that keeps everything in TAKEN 1, 2 and even 3 together.
Still, for as
much good will as Neeson brings to this film, TAKEN 3 is a mess of extreme
proportions on multiple levels. One
thing that it forgets is that TAKEN 1 and 2 were wicked fun because Bryan eliminated
his prey, one after the other, because he wasn’t an underdog.
In TAKEN 3 he’s delegated to being the wrongfully accused
underdog on the run, which doesn’t suit his character well at all.
Tension is non-existent through the story because Bryan is (a) so
limitlessly lethal and (b) he has access to CIA tech that gives him
opportunities to hack security cameras, download video files, secure GPS
coordinates, and so forth. There's rarely one moment in TAKEN 3 when audiences will be left wondering
whether or not Bryan will be captured.
There is not one enemy, police officer, or physical/mental
obstruction that Bryan is not able to go through with relative swiftness.
The man’s headstrong intrepidness and ingenuity would make Batman
blush with envy.
The only thing we
are really left with are the action sequences, which usually can save just
about any witless action film from completely imploding on itself.
Unfortunately, Olivier Megaton’s (whom helmed the last TAKEN)
direction is an editorial disaster. How
many times have I lamented over the years about how modern action directors
film action scenes with a dizzying flurry of shots, choreography that
gives no sensation of spatial relationships or geography, and then edit
them together with spastic and seizure inducing cuts?
When will today’s directors keep the camera still and allow
viewers to linger on shots in these types of films?
The cutting of sequences in TAKEN 3 takes hyperactive to a whole
new egregious extreme. Even
potentially glorious moments – like a convenience store battle between
Bryan and some nefarious goons or a freeway car chase sequence – are a
nightmarish blur of insanely fast cuts and eye straining camera pans.
The action of TAKEN 3 – a selling point for the series as a whole
– is shocking in its inept staging this go-around.
TAKEN 3’s ludicrous plot, as one final nail to it qualitative coffin, is also based on a series of would-be surprising double crosses that are never once startling and the whole undercurrent of Whitaker’s investigation honing in on – yes! – warm bagels and text conversations. Add to the dubious mix a villain that’s hardly a presence in the film at all and what we are left with is a TAKEN entry that's more cheaply disposable than its previous two. I’ve been more than fair to this series thus far. I admired the bruised knuckled and teeth clenched tenacity of Neeson headlining them. I’ve enjoyed their delectably unwholesome storylines. I enjoyed their unapologetically exploitation/grindhouse cinema look and feel. Yet, I just couldn’t completely lose myself in the staggeringly unlucky plight of Bryan Mills…for a third time. The only thing being taken in TAKEN 3 is your time and hard earned money. You should secure it.