The original “Taken” wasn’t a great movie. Having seen it again recently, I can’t get over how xenophobic and sleazy it is (Kids, don’t got to a foreign country or disobey your dad…or else you’ll get kidnapped and sold to a sex trade!). What makes it so watchable is Neeson. “Plausible” isn’t a word I associate with many action heroes but it comes up in every time I describe Neeson in one of these movies. “Taken,” “Non-Stop” and (to a lesser degree) “Unknown” work because I believe in Neeson’s unflappable ability to carry out his threat of revenge. The former Oskar Schindler is too tall and obviously not an American (his accent always gives him away), and yet he authoritatively carries these roles like the skilled actor he is.
The plot to “Taken 3” is both childishly simple and too convoluted. Neeson’s Bryan Mills is still a former secret agent who is friendly with his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and dotes way too much on his teen daughter (Maggie Grace). Three movies in, there’s still something obsessive, vaguely creepy and very French about the way Mills’s fatherly way resembles a stalker boyfriend. The relationship between Jean Reno and Natalie Portman in “Leon: The Professional” comes to mind, which was also written by Luc Besson, the co-writer and producer of the “Taken” franchise.
Something bad happens to Mills’ wife, putting him on the run, while a law enforcer (Forest Whitaker) chases him through “every hen house, out house, and dog house.” In addition to “Die Hard,” this steals big from “The Fugitive,” though Whitaker is no Tommy Lee Jones and Mills is no Dr. Richard Kimble. The screenplay is lousy, piling on corny one-liners, an overly complicated collection of supporting characters and, of all things, a vital clue in the murder investigation turns out to be a donut.
Neeson is still giving this his best but these sequels are no improvement on the original. You know he means business when he puts on his black leather jacket again (must be his Murder Attire) but nothing here comes close to that killer, iconic monolog from the first movie. A few conversations were clearly trying to match it but Besson and co-screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen clearly peaked with their “I have a specific set of skills…I will find you, I will kill you” that got the first movie going.
While “Taken 3” survives a terrible beginning, in which every scene feels like the movie is just constantly re-starting, the obnoxious, often spastic editing borders on strobe lighting. Too much of this is standard issue run n’ crash. If having Mills’ final adventure on his U.S. home turf was supposed to mimic the third Jason Bourne movie, the approach falls flat.
Late in the game (too late, in fact), this finally gets as nasty, over-the-top and consistently entertaining as it should be. Two set pieces, one in a liquor store, the other in a villain’s high rise lair, are wildly exciting. It’s only January, but there probably won’t be a more outrageously dumb movie moment this year than the priceless bit involving a Porsche and a jet (and yes, I know “Furious 7” opens in three months). Then there’s the ending, which isn’t much of one, leaving too many plot lines unresolved. This half-finished closure makes “Taken 4” appear to be a given.
Neeson remains a credible action hero but, unless his vehicles get better, he should hang up the black leather jacket for good. Well…actually, he should take it to the dry cleaners, have it scrubbed clean of blood and brain matter, allow it to air dry and then hang it up…and never tell his grandchild why that black leather jacket just sits unworn in his linen closet. Like the good, responsible parent he is.