The Taken series now stands as a perfect example of how to turn a good film into an awful trilogy.
2008 — Hire an effortlessly cool badass actor like Liam Neeson, and stick him into a simplistic but relatively clever and well-made piece of action-filled mayhem. Keep the material a little bit grim, just to keep it from feeling like every other action film ever made, and voila: you have Taken, a smash hit with audiences as well as with most action junkies and film critics. Hey, cool! Everybody wins!
2012 — Churn out the inevitable sequel while lowering the intelligence, eliminating the cleverness, and — in order to appease the great lord PG-13 — neutering all the action down to a bunch of thrown punches, poor camerawork, and truly atrocious editing decisions. The result was Taken 2, a film that made a whole lot of money, but also made a whole lot of fans angry.
2015 — The end of the road. Mr. Neeson, although still badass as ever, isn’t getting any younger. The producers bet they can squeeze a few more nickels out of the guy, so here we go. Did the producers notice or even care about the complaints regarding Part 2? Maybe spruce things up a bit for the ticket-buyers? Nope. Sorry. Taken 3 hits the screens with all the craftsmanship and artistry of a huge cardboard box reaching the end of a conveyor belt and hitting a concrete floor with a hollow thump.
Taken 3 is the Murder She Wrote (Season 8) of action films: you get one egregiously moronic screenplay, a whole bunch of brutal yet confusingly bloodless violence, and about 80 endless minutes of gruff, angry men growling into walkie-talkies, cell phones, and computer monitors. While Taken and Taken 2 focused on super-former-spy Brian Mills as he tries to rescue his eternally clueless daughter from various heavily-accented men, Taken 3 is nothing more than a very limp retread of The Fugitive: this time around, Mills is accused of killing his wife, which means he must track down the killers while avoiding the authorities and visiting his vapid kid. Excuse me for a second, but zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Reprising the roles from the previous films are Famke Janssen as Soon-T0-Be-Dead-Ex-Wife and the outrageously unconvincing Maggie Grace as a daughter who seems to range in age from 7 to 37, depending on what the specific scene calls for. Not to be unkind, but Ms. Grace seems to own one facial expression, but that doesn’t stop the filmmakers from giving her character numerous scenes in which she has absolutely no bearing on the plot. (A sequence in which she tells her dad some important news feels ported right out of a 1970s-era sitcom.)
And that’s far from the only unintentional laugh found in Taken 3: one character gets their throat slit, and another commits suicide by sticking a gun in his mouth… yet there’s no blood. In an effort to placate the various ratings boards, Taken 3 has been made sloppier, lazier, and more confusing — on purpose. Another bit involving peach yogurt is so absurd it inspired peals of laughter across the theater. There’s also a “big” gun battle in Act III involving a man clad (rather hilariously) in a pair of ill-fitting tighty-whitey underpants that you have to see to believe.
Scattered across this miasma of generic action movie tedium are a bunch of cool actors — none of whom are able to breathe any sort of life, color, or energy into this slog of a product. I’m not sure how one goes about wasting the talents of people like Forest Whitaker, Leland Orser, Don Harvey, Andrew Howard, and Jon Gries, but Taken 3 pulls it off. Even the great Liam Neeson, who could read a sugar packet out loud and make it interesting, seems monumentally bored by the proceedings.
So Taken 3 is a lazy and tiresome mish-mash of 40 different films and TV shows you’re probably tired of by now, but how’s the action? Sorry to say that even that most basic component is mishandled to a dizzying degree: car chases are so over-cut you literally can’t tell who’s in what car; gunfights are so perfunctory you don’t even care who gets shot; and there are a whole bunch of Liam Neeson-sized stuntmen smashing through glass, leaping onto cars, and running across rooftops.
Films like Taken 3 (and, of course, Taken 2) start to feel more like punishment than entertainment. In exchange for making Taken a hit, we’ve now been subjected to a pair of plainly slipshod and aggressively amateurish sequels that focus a whole lot more on “name recognition” and a big opening weekend than they do on simply making a decent action flick. Not sure why you’d want to insult the people who buy your product, let alone twice, but let’s just hope this is the end of the line for the Taken franchise. Aside from Liam Neeson, there’s nothing worth seeing here — and even he seems to realize how ridiculously lame this stuff has become.
1.5 out of 5 burritos, and that’s me being nice.