It’s not difficult to see how Liam Neeson was able to reinvent himself as an action star. His grizzled Irish brogue is both authoritative and intimidating, and he’s able to soften is edge when necessary. With a few exceptions, though, Neeson’s ventures into the action genre have been lacking both in narrative and visual coherency. Neeson returns to the role that started his reinvention – Brian Mills, the ex-CIA operative whose family is always being taken – in Taken 3. Somehow, someway, the third installment in this moronic franchise manages to out-dumb its idiotic predecessors, which is no small feat.
After having saved members of his family in international locales, Brian Mills (Neeson) has settled into the quiet life in Los Angeles. His ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) is having marital troubles and seeks solace by discussing her problems with Brian. Meanwhile, his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) has just discovered she’s pregnant but fears telling her overbearing father. One evening Lenore’s husband Stuart St John (Dougary Scott) stops by Brian’s apartment and asks him to keep his distance from Lenore. The next day Brian receives a text from Lenore asking him to meet her for bagels (bagels play an important role in the plot. I’m serious.). Upon returning to his apartment with a sack of warm bagels, Brian discovers the dead body of his ex-wife. Shortly after picking up the bloody knife on the floor, the LAPD storm his apartment, which naturally leads to Mills opening a can of whoop-ass on the boys in blue before heading out on the lam. With Inspector Frank Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) hot on his tail, Mills has only a short time to discover the real killer.
Where the prior films were problematic in their own right – I could ramble on about the insane worldview of the first film – Taken 3 pushes the envelope well past the point of reason in regards to its main character. He wasn’t exactly likable in the previous films, like when, for example, he shoots an innocent woman to extract information from her husband. In this one, Neeson’s Mills is assaulting half of the LAPD, because nothing declares your innocence like assaulting and fleeing from the police. While on the lam and trying to see his daughter, Mills invades her college campus. When the police start to close in, Mills sets off explosives and causes the campus to erupt in a panic which is then followed by his assaulting random security guards on campus. Later in the film, Mills waterboards his ex-wife’s husband in order to extract information – yes, the “good guy” waterboards, beats up cops and underpaid security guards, and terrorizes college campuses.
Returning from Taken 2 is director Oliver Megaton, who has the visual style of a meth-addled epileptic. To refer to Megaton as an action director is to denigrate the legacy of action cinema. The bone-headed script by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, who’ve written all of the Taken films, does have some potential to be just stupid fun, but Megaton is visually illiterate. The sound and fury of the cuts and sound effects might give the illusion of action but you can’t actually see what is happening on screen. Megaton is so comically incompetent that he gives away major twists early in the film. Then when they finally reveal the obvious they try to pass it off as if it is legitimately surprising.
Everything about Taken 3 makes me think it was secretly written, directed, and edited by a group of half-literate 6th graders. In this film, women (and by women I’m referring to the film’s 2 female characters) only exist to be avenged or protected. The overwhelming juvenile attitude leaves Taken 3 to be a work by people who don’t know what they want to do, let alone how to actually do it. It’s a ramshackle collision of nonsense that tests the patience of its viewer. At least they didn’t call it Tak3n.