He may not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but ex-CIA agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) has come awfully close to such superhuman feats in the previous installments of Luc Besson’s “Taken” series, and he’s at it again in this third go-around. There’s not much that’s new in “Taken 3”—it’s basically just another extended chase movie, one far longer–and sillier–than a Road Runner cartoon. The wrinkle this time is that Mills isn’t rushing about to save somebody who’s been kidnapped, but to prove his own innocence after he’s framed for killing his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen). (The rationale behind the plot, spelled out rather blithely at the close, is both convoluted and idiotic.) The setting is more confined as well, being the area around Los Angeles rather than an international swath of territory.
But those changes hardly present an obstacle to Besson and his director Olivier Megaton’s serving up more of the same menu that made Neeson an action star late in his career. Unfortunately, it’s beginning to take a toll: he often looks as tired as Harrison Ford did in his later action vehicles. Still, with help from stuntmen and editors Audrey Simonaud and Nicolas Trembasiewicz, Neeson’s Mills negotiates all the physical demands, eluding capture by either the cops, led by Detective Frank Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) while protecting his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and tracking down, and dealing severely with, the true malefactors.
In the earlier installments, of course, the nasty guys were Albanians, but it’s characteristic of the even less imaginative quality of this installment that the villain is that most hackneyed of figures, a nasty Russian mobster called Oleg Malankov (Sam Spruell). The character is provided with an extraordinarily inane flashback to explain his brutality, but it doesn’t really distinguish him much from the Russian gangster, for example, that Marton Csokas recently played in “The Equalizer.” Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, and we’ve seen far too many.
“Taken 3” lacks the destructive mayhem of its predecessors: perhaps Los Angeles officials were less ready to allow the moviemakers to plow through quite as much real estate as those in Paris and Istanbul were. The relative lack of pyrotechnic pizzazz—there are a couple of explosions, but they’re pretty tame—will probably disappoint fans of the series, who will probably also react to the intrusive meetings Bryan arranges with Kim, and the sequences of Dotzler, a distinctly offbeat fellow, brooding over the case (which are dull despite Whitaker’s attempt to liven them up with some hammy bits of business), with much the same attitude that kids once did to the romantic interludes in old cowboy movies. The appearances of Dougray Scott as Kim’s sleazeball stepfather—whose involvement in all the shenanigans is pretty obvious from the movie’s prologue—have the same effect; one wants to yell at Megaton to just get on with it already—advice which, had he heeded it, would certainly have helped to reduce the movie’s unsuitably long running-time.
Still, one has to give Neeson his due: his broad shoulders have carried these dim-witted Besson creations far further than anybody could have expected. And Grace’s Kim, for what it’s worth, has matured somewhat over the course of the pictures; the girl is less of an irritating twit than she was at the start, even if the problem she’s gotten into with her boyfriend—in this case, a likable fellow played by Jonny Weston—adds a mawkish touch the proceedings don’t need. As for Spruell, he chews the scenery in predictably overripe fashion. So does Scott. Janssen, meanwhile, has little more than a cameo.
For a franchise that’s grossed hundreds of millions of dollars, the production values here are pretty awful: the action sequences—particularly the car chases—are very badly choreographed, with thoroughly mediocre visual effects, and both they and the numerous hand-to-hand combat scenes are marred by the cruelly claustrophobic cinematography of Eric Kress, for whom close-ups appear to be default mode, made even worse by the hyper, often blurry editing. Except for some nighttime shots of the city, Kress makes poor use of the L.A. locations, too, while Nathaniel Mechaly’s score is a chain of musical clichés.
After all the mayhem they’ve endured over the course of three films, one supposes that Bryan and Kim are in need of some quality vacation time for father-daughter bonding. One can imagine, therefore, that they’ll go off on a cruise (perhaps with boyfriend along), only to find the ship taken over by modern-day pirates. Naturally the Mills would swing into action and…. No, that would be ridiculous—almost as ridiculous as what transpires in “Taken 3.” Anyway, the advertising tag-line of this movie is, “It ends here.” And we all know how committed franchise-makers are to keeping such pledges of finality.