Published on January 9th, 2015 | by Conor Smyth0
Producer/writer Luc Besson and director Olivier Megaton are filmmakers with a very specific set of skills, ones they have acquired over very long careers, and ones they apply liberally to Taken 3, Liam Neeson’s third round of familial brouhaha as Bryan Mills, retired spook and walking diplomatic incident.
They can take the plainest of scenes, like two people in a room talking, or a basic freeway car chase, and turn them into impenetrable garbage. They can look at the reception to Taken 2, identify everything about it audiences disliked (the jumps in plot logic; the fun-sucking attention on Maggie Grace’s gormless suffering daughter routine; the softened age certificate) and then decide ‘more of the same!’ They can take a promising twist on the series formula – hunter turned hunted, the antihero framed for his ex-wife’s murder and forced underground to prove his innocence – and then bung it up in about twenty minutes by having the cop on his tail acknowledging that, yeah, he probably didn’t do it. Principally, they can take an unremarkable but competent action outlier, one powered by charitably low expectations and goodwill towards an unorthodox lead, and crash it into the ground. Twice.
Taken 3 takes a lifetime to get going, front-loading the narrative with the on-going and thudderingly uninteresting tribulations of the Mill clan. The daughter is pregnant, the ex-wife (Famke Janssen) is unhappy and the dodgy new husband is getting antsy about Bryan being around all the time. It’s dull material, bizarrely rendered. Neeson replicates his tough-guy phone voice for every line of dialogue, regardless of context, a source of constantly amusing tonal dissonance. In the setup he brings his daughter a stuffed bear and trades barbs with her dudebro boyfriend, the forced paternal banter, angle choices and grimly misjudged beats producing something so strangely terrible that for a second I thought I was watching The Room (hi doggy!), or a piece of piss-take surrealism. The awkwardness never lets up, screenwriters Besson and Robert Mark Kamen cluttering their dialogue with redundant pieces of information or having characters explain and re-explain the plot for any audience members still dazed by the machine-gun editing.
After the multi-lingual face-bashing of the first two films, Mills is back on home turf, but it’s the same Eurotrash style; random music-video lens flare and badly dressed Russians blasting their hardware. Neeson and his stunt double shuffle across downtown LA, dogged by Forest Whitaker and his reheated obsessive investigator tics. Mills talks on the phone (a lot), reciting buzzwords from the career-rebooting monologue, and says ‘bagels’ (a lot), catnip for the Youtube super-cutters. With the neutered 12A rating, it’s a bloodless, gritless dash from one plot point to the next, generic to the point of invisibility. Those troubled by the politics of the series – white knight saves virginal daughter from scumbag rapist foreigners – will raise a few eyebrows when Mills straight-up waterboards a guy for information. Say it ain’t so, Schindler!
This is surely the end for the knackered franchise, though with an addition to the Mills brood on the way there’s always a chance for a future wacky buddy reboot, in which a high-skilled infant breaks his grandfather out of the hospice, riding that free bus pass to Earth-Capital Beijing-1, knee-capping Chinamen along the way. Ta4en: Take Two a Day with Meals. Conor Smyth