Silver Screen: Taken III **
Taken III has a French writer and director, an Irish star, a Danish costar, and villains from Scotland and Russia, but this multinational effort is as American as shooting an apple pie. It’s an old-school actioneer gussied up with some cheap-ish digital effects that do little to hide how creaky and programmatic this unlikely series has become.
Credit aging star Liam Neeson for not just hanging in there, but remaining intimidating well into his Social Security eligibility. The fight choreography is stiffer and more limited to simulate him smacking around musclebound thugs a third his age, but he can still thrown down convincingly enough. His gravitas elevated the first movie above its straight-to-Redbox station, but the sequels decreasingly make use of it, replacing his killer calculations with generic action-hero unstoppability. Taken III could be a boring shoot ‘em up with just about anybody filling the gun-toting avenger role—it’s just dull and unimaginative enough to be perfect for Gerard Butler— but it’s better with Neeson, even if it still isn’t very good.
The first Taken’s premise was some ideal combination of elegant simplicity and the luridly simplistic. A ring of sex slavers kidnaps clueless girls vacationing overseas, but this time they snatch the wrong girl. Her estranged father (Neeson) is a trained assassin who can use his icy logic and special set of skills to find his daughter and bring her abductors to bloody justice.
The second time around, Neeson’s retired operative Bryan Mills has reconnected with his family and accompanied his daughter (Maggie Grace) and ex-wife (Famke Janssen) on yet another trip abroad spoiled by kidnappers. Now the whole clan is back Stateside and the former Mrs. Mills is pondering a split with her douchey second husband (Dougray Scott). When she turns up dead in Bryan’s apartment, police launch a manhunt. Lead investigator Detective Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) is dubious of Mills’s involvement but continues with the search while our man tries to find his ex-wife’s killer and clear his name with the help of some senior-citizen spy buddies (Jon Gries, David Warshofsky, and perennially underrated Leland Orser).
For a movie called Taken III, there’s not a whole lot of taking. It’s token-taking, really, another in a series of half-assed attempts to link this by-the-numbers thriller to the earlier, more lucrative first two films. Director Olivier Megaton, who also helmed the first sequel, tries to propel the movie along with sheer momentum, as if moving fast enough will stop the audience (or anyone involved) from questioning its utter lack of a reason for being. Somewhere near the midpoint my mind wandered a bit before an exploding building redirected my attention to the screen. Who blew the building up, and for what purpose? I’m still not sure, because it was never mentioned again. Neeson just kept barreling forward, with Whitaker trotting along behind.
The action sequences are as perfunctory as the plotting. Megaton seems to have edited the chase scenes with a lawn mower. They’re choppy and incomprehensible, with no sense of scale or perspective. You don’t expect action movies to adhere to the laws of physics, but an orgiastic car-crash scene early on doesn’t even attempt to approximate action-movie physics. Cars lurch sideways without warning, flip into the air without provocation, then burst into digitized balls of flame that look like screensaver fireworks.
Taken III is by no means the worst movie, but what’s frustrating is it doesn’t even seem interested in trying to be an okay one. Take me once, shame on you. Take me twice, shame on me. Taken three times? To paraphrase George W. Bush, we won’t get tooken again.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.