By Bob Garver
Jan. 12, 2014. “Taken” has always been a pretty low brow franchise. The appeal of the films is a little more than Liam Neeson’s intimidating line delivery and the promise of shooting and explosions. I get that these films aren’t meant to be held to a particularly high standard. But in “Taken 3,” the action is so weak that the film can’t live up to even lowered expectations.
Liam Neeson is, of course, back as Bryan Mills, a former CIA operative who might as well have the official job title of “action hero.” His constantly-endangered daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is still in the picture, as is his constantly-endangered ex-wife Lenore (Franke Janssen), though not for long. Mills soon finds himself framed for a crime perpetrated by Russian gangsters. We don’t know why the Russians committed the crime, but we get the feeling that Lenore’s current husband Stuart (Dougray Scott) is somehow involved. Mills needs to solve the crime, clear his name and beat the bad guys, all without getting caught by the police, led by Inspector Dotzler (Forest Whitaker).
Because he’s being chased by the police, Mills spends a lot of the movie in evasion mode. While it certainly makes sense that he’d be pursued, it doesn’t work to the movie’s advantage to have him constantly just slipping away from people he’d rather not hurt. Think back to that iconic phone conversation from the first movie. Remember that whole, “I will find you and I will kill you” bit? It’s aggressive. The audience for this movie wants to see aggression. This movie needs to give the character more time on offense and less on defense.
Then again, even when Mills is on offense the movie is a mess. Or rather, it’s too clean. Close-range shootings are laughably bloodless and so much impact is edited out of the fight scenes that we can’t tell what’s being done. I know this movie wants a PG-13 rating, but there are less sloppy ways of making it clean enough.
Example: one of the Russians is making a phone call, and in the middle of the call, he shoots a guy. What we see is him shoot the guy in what appears to be the leg, with no blood, and it apparently kills him. It’s an underwhelming scene. Easy solution: the camera stays on the bad guy’s face for the entire call. He still shoots the guy; we hear the gunshot and see a brief flash of light against his face, but all the violence is happening off-screen. As long as we have something interesting to look at (an unflinching villain expression), we can forgive the film for leaving the visual of the shooting to our imagination.
The best thing I can say about the film is that the actors at least try. Neeson is his usual intimidating self. Maggie Grace does what she can to make her character seem like more than the typical daughter in distress (to no avail). Forest Whitaker goes for a few nice touches with his police inspector, but they’re all unintentionally funny. One example is that he pays particularly close attention to a food-related clue, but all i heard was laughter over how quickly the portly character found his way to food.
Another is a scene in a diner (more food) where he holds up chess pieces to illustrate the “game” he’s playing with Mills. The rest of the chess set is back at his office, so there’s no reason for him to be fooling around with chess pieces except someone thought it would make the scene look cool, which it doesn’t.
It should come as no surprise that I think “Taken 3” is a bad movie. I think even “Taken” fans are expecting a bad movie, just not to this degree of uselessness. So let me hit this movie with a harsher insult: “Taken 3” isn’t just a bad movie, it’s a bad “Taken” movie.
One and a half stars out of five.