Film Review: ‘Taken 3’

Taken-3 Tak3n

The third and presumably final installment of the Liam Neeson action franchise is a mind-numbing, crash-bang misfire.

Running out of kidnapped relatives for Liam Neeson’s ex-CIA killing machine to rescue, scribes Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen turn him into a fugitive framed for murder in “Taken 3,” a mind-numbing, crash-bang misfire that abandons chic European capitals for the character’s own backyard. French director Olivier Megaton, who at least paced “Taken 2” with workmanlike efficiency, executes the pedestrian plot without a shred of tension or finesse. Opening in Hong Kong on New Year’s Day, a week ahead of its U.S. bow, the Fox release will draw crowds simply because it’s supposedly the last installment of the lucrative franchise, but they’ll just be hostages to tedium.

In “Taken” (2008), helmed by Pierre Morel, Neeson’s Los Angeles-based Bryan Mills went after Albanian slave traders who kidnapped his 17-year-old daughter in Paris. Made as a low-budget B-movie that sent up U.S. politics and values even as it emulated American genre films, it grossed $227 million worldwide. The sequel, made four years later, reversed the pattern by having the Albanians’ vengeful relatives kidnap Mills and his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen). Despite the more elaborate action setpieces and heightened casualties, the premise remained just as basic and clear: The shocking way in which the hostages are taken, and the methodical manner in which the retired CIA agent tracked them, generated tremendous excitement.

Without someone to save, the concept of a race against time is seriously weakened. While family matters were kept short and sweet in the other two installments, “Taken 3” stretches out the kitchen-sink drama endlessly: Mills’ daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), who was 17 when she was first kidnapped, is now a college student facing serious adult problems. Her dad, however, still believes that, after having hurled a few hand grenades and driven a stolen car through a shower of bullets, she’d still be content to play with a stuffed panda on her birthday.

Equally troubled is Lenore, who seeks consolation as her marriage to filthy-rich Stuart (Dougray Scott) is on the rocks. The possibility of Lenore and Mills rekindling their relationship is put on hold, however, when he’s forced to go on the run for a crime he didn’t commit. As he said to Lenore in the previous film: “I’ll be OK. It’s the people following me who’re gonna have a problem.”

Given that Mills walked away Scot-free from double-figure body counts in Europe, watching him evade arrest by Inspector Frank Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) doesn’t yield much in terms of suspense or surprises. Mills describes Dotzler as “very clever,” though the latter’s theory that anyone who buys warm bagels can’t be a cold-blooded killer ranks among the more illogical police deductions in recent memory. Elsewhere, detecting and blocking each other’s tracking devices is pretty much the extent of their mental sparring.

One of the series’ talking points has been its extremely negative portrayal of Albanians; “Taken 2” closed on a note suggesting the the blood feud would live on, and it would have made sense here for it to continue here, or for Mills to finally set foot in the hermit country. Alas, those characters have been ditched in favor of Russian mafiosos, who come across as pale imitations of the tattooed fiends in David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises.”

What has made the “Taken” franchise such a guilty pleasure so far is its take-no-prisoners stance toward bad guys and its no-holds-barred brutality, especially coming from Neeson, an actor who radiates gravitas and nobility no matter what. Although less graphic in its representation of violence than its predecessors, “Taken 3” retains a gutsy realism in scenes where Mills matter-of-factly cracks bones and splatters brains, and the shoot-’em-ups, car wrecks and explosions are noisier and more bombastic than ever. They’re also unimaginatively choreographed, with zero forward momentum. Even as the scale of each production has increased, the scope of the action has diminished: Compared with scattering hand grenades all over Istanbul, it’s mere child’s play for Mills to blow up a classroom at Kim’s college.

Without a doubt, the first “Taken” movie gave Neeson, then in his 50s, a new lease on life as an action hero. Now 62, the actor still has an imposing presence, but more often than not, he looks pretty beat and impatient to get things over with. Kim has evolved from an exasperatingly clueless brat to a feisty rescuer over two films, but there isn’t any real progression in character development or in Grace’s performance here.

Stuart, a slimy wimp as played by Xander Berkeley in the first “Taken,” served as a neat foil for our straight-talking, straight-shooting hero. Replaced here by Scott, he behaves like a badass dude who is supposed to be Mills’ equal in gun-toting prowess; it’s a wholly unconvincing transformation. As Russian mafioso Malankov, Sam Spruell behaves like a cardboard James Bond villain, showing some vicious individuality only in the action scenes.

Tech credits are serviceable if creatively impoverished. The L.A. locations recall countless images of the city caught onscreen, with lenser Eric Kress frequently using panoramic and helicopter shots of the city’s skyline as visual crutches. Nathaniel Mechaly’s ubiquitous score borders on schmaltzy.

Film Review: ‘Taken 3’

Reviewed at AMC Pacific Place, Hong Kong, Dec. 31, 2014. Running time: 118 MIN.

Production

(U.S.-France) A 20th Century Fox (in U.S.) release, presented with Europacorp, of a Europacorp, Canal Plus, M6 Films production, in association with TSG Entertainment. Produced by Luc Besson.

Crew

Directed by Olivier Megaton. Screenplay, Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Eric Kress; editors, Audrey Simonaud, Nicolas Trembasiewicz; music, Nathaniel Mechaly; production designer, Sebastian Inizan; art directors, Nanci Roberts; set decorator, Linda Spheeris; costume designer, Olivier Beriot; sound (Dolby Digital), Stephanie Bucher, Frederic Dubois; re-recording mixer, Bucher; special effects supervisor, Philippe Hubin; special effects, Big Bang; visual effects supervisors, Simon Descamps, Paul Briault; visual effects, Digital Factory, MacGuff, Exlair, Fotokem; stunt coordinator, Mark Vanselow; fight choreographer, Alain Figlarz; line producer, Michael Mandaville; assistant directors, Trent Dempsey, Ludovic Bernard; casting, John Papsidera.

With

Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Forest Whitaker, Dougray Scott, Sam Spruell, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, Al Sapienza. (English, Russian dialogue)

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  1. Lisa says:

    I loved this movie! Yes, he is fighting men half his age, but in all Hollywood movies the chase scenes and fight scenes are far fetched and redundant. Hey, this is LIam Neeson and I could watch him be this character for three more Takens!! I loved this movie, even almost more than the first two.

  2. Sal U. Lloyd says:

    I thought Megatron was the receiver of the Detroit Lions???

  3. Liam Neeson is on course for another $300 million plus global movie from a sub $50 million budget. His action movies also do very well from DVD. Maybe time to revise the review of his movies and this franchaise. The first TAKEN was also panned by critics, whose publications are now free giveways and on skeleton staffs compared to 2008.
    Moreover the Oscars will regain some credibility only when they start nominating British and Irish stars whose movies fly regularly rather than British and Irish stars whose movies even backed by huge Oscar nomination promotion budgets just do not get people buying tickets. Liam Neeson merits quite a few more nominations. People will still be watching his movies in many years time when so many Oscar winners have faded completely from memory. Many have in the last 5, 10 and 20 years yet winners from say pre-1980 still hold up with regular TV airplay.

  4. And we don’t give a hoot about your review. Did you see where this movie you trashed took in more than $40 million this weekend? I hear Liam Neeson has a particular set of skills he’d like to try on you.

  5. John G says:

    I stopped reading this article as soon as this ass clown author decided to refer to Albanians as scuzzy balkan soccer fans. How did you get a job as a writer? Piece of shit, hope you get taken then say that.

  6. Sal U. Lloyd says:

    Give it up, Neeson, you’re becoming more embarrassing than Denzel or Samuel L. Move on!

  7. Alex says:

    It’s an action flick, go to theater, buy Milk Duds, watch hero kill bad guys. Enjoy.

  8. Happy healthy prosperous New Year to everyone out there.
    Yes, Liam Neeson at 62 has somehow according to Variety aged 12 actual years in 7. He was I believe 55 in 2008 and not 50. Not such a big jump for the great actor to continue and crucially no age at all in what is rightly described as a French movie. Old guys regularly get the young beautiful girl in French movies, and with great panache, aplomb, style, elan.
    Liam Nesson does have that “je ne sais quoi” and has greatly improved as an actor since his early TV days when he was always sound as an Irish character but not quite so brilliant as a French police Inspector. Nonetheless his patience, persistence and dedication in working hard on these parts saw him progress every few years to another acting league.
    His rise from humble background and many real jobs in the real world – similar to Sean Connery – has given him the dignity and nobility.
    The question becomes why he suddenly took off as a major box office draw in 2008 and onwards. Why he entered the vacuum created by Mel Gibson as genuine great actor action man lead.
    Was it just that greenlit scripts which were due for Gibson got readdressed to Neeson ?
    Neeson showed great promise so very many times. In Excaliber he literally stood out because he towered over great actors, yet it was Patrick Stewart who went on to 80s international stardom. Again he showed he had something special in cameos and support in Krull and The Bounty, but it was Mel Gibson and Antony Hopkins who went on to much bigger box office stardom. As an Irish servant in Woman of Substance, he smashed it in international TV. He had a pivitol moment after his support in The Mission. Although this relaunched Robert Di Niro (after a six film box office slump) to new heights in his second phase career, and really moved Jeremy Irons up the box office list, the one who deserved even more kudos as best newish comer was Neeson. He allegedly saw that he was now well able to do what he saw up close Oscar winners doing, so he decided to risk being in LA not London or Belfast.
    In the 12 weeks or so that his savings lasted, he landed the work to stay there.
    He was solid support in a Dirty Harry movie ‘Deadpool’ but he was not seen as the new young Clint Eastwood nor the break out act Jim Carrey. But he could have been when he was in his 30s. he could have been the rival of Mel Gibson for parts in Lethal Weapon or Bruce Willis in Diehard. He could have been Batman instead of Michael Keaton. He could have done the roles Kurt Russell, Eddie Murphy, Sly Stallone, Arnie, and others were doing in the late 80s and 90s.
    As it was he ended up as a deaf and dumb mute in Suspect and the lead in a poorly scripted, poorly directed, under financed Darkman.
    Instead of taking off, and he was fine in the now completely forgotten film noir as a private detective in Under Suspicion which just needed a marketing budget to be a hit, and it is best to forget the dour movie ‘Big Man’ aka ‘Crossing The Line’ in which he was truly brilliant but the story depressing and again under-funded.
    He was ready for the stardom levels he has now achieved but the lack of right role, the right story, the undermarketing of movies meant that his fine efforts in ‘Leap of Faith’ and his German Nazi turn in ‘Shining Through’ meant he just trod water career wise.
    The casting in Schindler’s :ist surely showed people what he could do. Genius performance.
    But the next film ‘Rob Roy’ was dreadful. This cost him 12 years. Had he been in Braveheart and Gibson in Rob Roy, then Neeson would have been the action star of the 90s. Rob Roy was nasty in the worst sense. His performance was great and action scenes fine, but the story was just ugly.
    He was outstanding as Michael Collins but alas it seems that very few wanted to see the movie based on modern Irish history. Then finally came Star Wars.
    The old Star Wars fans were impossible to please, but the young new fans loved it and loved him. The delayed reaction until they could watch movies for teenagers meant his fan base was hidden a few years. Then they grew up, saw him as their Harrison Ford and bought tickets to anything with Liam Neeson in.
    Happily he mostly now picks great stories and gets the scripts they used to send to Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford.
    12 to 24 year old Fans love Liam Neeson and they buy cinema tickets. Get used to it. He is box office.

  9. hongkong coboticas cobotica says:

    taken a great movie liam neeson is great in this movie luc besson a great director león the profesional a classic movie jean reno is excellent in this movie and a great producer the transporter a great movie kiss of the dragon a great movie danny the dog a great movie wasabi a great movie crimson rivers a great movie taken a great franchise

  10. “chic European capitals”… Paris, indeed. Another one ?
    Taken (2008) was nota low-budget B-movie ! It had a normal budget for a French thriller as French actors are usually not paid 30 million euros ! It changed when Europacorp realised the potential of the franchise at an international scale. But it remained a French franchise. The role of 20th century Fox in the US is only to ditribute/release the film.

  11. i think next time he would be looking for long last siblings or parents . Maybe nxt time he will trying to find himself

  12. Bony Hurdle says:

    In 2008, Taken “gave the then-50-year-old Neeson a new lease on life as an action hero.” 7 years later, “Now in his 60s…” — Who does the research at Variety?

    • I thought the same thing. It’s just basic math! The first installment was the best as is the case in most movies but it has been fun to see Mr. Neeson as an action hero. If you like Liam Neeson just enjoy the film for what it is supposed to be-entertainment.

  13. Jason says:

    What did you expect the godfather 2? Doucher writing this review as usual. Enjoy it for what’s it worth.

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