Directed by Olivier Megaton
Starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Forest Whitaker, Famke Janssen
The entertainment ROI for Liam Neeson’s flagship geriactioner franchise drops to almost zero with this dire third instalment, which sees Neeson’s retired spy Bryan Mills on the run from the fuzz after being framed for the murder of his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen).
The plot précis alone is enough to set alarm bells ringing, as putting Neeson’s ruthless papa wolf up against the LAPD in general and Forest Whitaker’s dogged Inspector Dotzler in particular puts a very important handicap on our paternal murder machine: he can’t kill anyone in his way.
That might seem like a minor gripe at first glance, but it demonstrates that Director Olivier Megaton (ugh) and co-writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen don’t understand the essential appeal of the character and concept. The fun in Taken came from watching Neeson’s goofy dad reveal himself to be an implacable and ruthless badass – the impact is considerably lessened when he has to disable his opponents rather than obliterate them.
Even when Mills is finally let of the leash against the true villains – Russian this time – it’s hard to get excited. Even if the badly coiffed former Spetsnaz villain (Sam Spruell) was a formidable adversary (he isn’t), Megaton is perhaps the worst offender currently working when it comes to reducing action sequences to blurry, impossible to follow, impressionistic montages. To be fair, this may be in service to making Neeson look capable of holding up his end of the mayhem – at 62 he’s now, as Michael Caine once memorably intoned, a big man but in bad shape. An extended foot chase starring what is clearly Neeson’s stunt double demonstrates this unequivocally.
Still, here’s some fun to be had. For one thing, Neeson remains a strong presence even when hampered with bad material. Also, while it’s hard to care much about the ongoing personal problems of the blended Mills clan(daughter Kim, played by Maggie Grace, is pregnant to her surely-living-in-a-constant-state-of-mortal-terror boyfriend) we do finally get to see Bryan’s coterie of freelance black ops golf buddies get in on the action, albeit briefly, which is pretty entertaining.
Still, it might be time to admit that Liam Neeson’s recent forays into action territory have been a mistake. The first, unexpected Taken aside, his efforts have ranged from average (The A-Team, Non-Stop) to terrible (Unknown, this). Action fans, or at least those of a more purist stripe, have been ill-served in recent years, with mid-budget, solid efforts largely absent from cinema screens in favour of superhero blockbusters and similar fare, so Taken 3 will probably find an audience. But it doesn’t deserve to. Go watch the first one again instead.