‘Taken 3’ Review: Listen to Me Very Carefully. Your Money Is About to Be Taken.
The former CIA operative turned full-time rescuer of his perpetually kidnapped family at the center of the ‘Taken’ series is famous for—as he put it to the men who took his daughter in the first film—a “particular set of skills” that make him “a nightmare” for bad guys. Here now is a partial list of the particular skills Bryan Mills—played by the 62-year-old Liam Neeson—displays in ‘Taken 3’:
- He survives a fiery car crash.
- He survives the explosion that ensues after the crash.
- He outruns a police officer who looks to be about half his age.
- He outruns a police car. On foot.
- He wins a 1-on-2 fight, unarmed.
- He wins a 1-on-4 fight, unarmed.
- He uses a man as a human shield.
- He uses the same man, now dead, as a disguise.
- He jumps a car over several lanes of highway traffic.
- He hangs out in a secret lair that he calls “The Rabbit Hole.”
- He sneaks into a morgue, and performs an impromptu autopsy.
- He uses a defibrillator as a weapon.
Ladies and gentlemen, I propose to you that this is not a particular set of skills. This is a level of deadly efficiency that is simply unattainable by a mere mortal, much less one of Neeson’s advanced age. Based on the evidence on display in ‘Taken 3,’ I must assume Bryan Mills is some kind of warlock or immortal or something. He’s certainly superhuman. Or maybe he’s Batman. He did train the dude in ‘Batman Begins,’ after all.
Mills’ impossible proficiency in combat, driving, gunplay, forensic science, chemistry, and sleuthing is part of the central conceit of the ‘Taken’ franchise. It’s also one of its main problems. At this point in the series, we’ve seen Mills face overwhelming odds (and kill roughly the population of a small island nation) to rescue his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) on several occasions. So when, in ‘Taken 3,’ Mills is framed and pitted against the combined might of the LAPD and ruthless Russian gangsters, the outcome is academic.
‘The Fugitive’—the television show and film from which ‘Taken 3’’s plot is so lovingly ripped off—was dramatic because its hero, a humble doctor, was totally out of his depth. He only managed to survive thanks to a combination of luck and intelligence. Every single moment on the run was a matter of life or death; any mistake could cost him dearly. Bryan Mills, in contrast, is framed for murder and looks about as annoyed as I get when my dry cleaner loses my laundry.
That’s an issue, certainly, but not a fatal one. After all, ‘Taken 3’ is an over-the-top action movie, a genre that not only allows for unfeasibly competent heroes, it practically demands them. If ‘Taken 3’ delivered in the thrills department, it wouldn’t matter one iota whether we cared about Bryan Mills. But sadly, ‘Taken 3’ is directed by Olivier Megaton, and if he isn’t the most incoherent action filmmaker in the world today, it’s not for lack of trying. His shootouts, hand-to-hand battles, and car chases are all edited for maximum confusion and minimum clarity. In this case, that might be a matter of necessity; Neeson’s physical limitations mean his performance requires a certain amount of post-production assistance. But whatever the reason, Megaton’s incomprehensible cutting turns ‘Taken 3’ into a tedious compilation of ugly, disjointed imagery.
Forest Whitaker does provide a few chuckles in the Tommy Lee Jones role of the quirky police detective; in one scene, he actually eats the evidence at a crime scene (I’m still a few credits away from my night school criminology degree, but I’m fairly certain that’s a no-no). And Neeson deserves at least some credit just for keeping a straight face amidst all the nonsense these ‘Taken’ movies (written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen) drag him through. The subplot this time involving Kim—who is inexplicably still in college even though Grace is already in her 30s—would be enough to send a lesser actor into fits of giggles. ‘Taken 3’ is a dumb story told poorly, but Neeson never looks less than fully invested. Somehow, he manages to maintain his dignity amidst the schlock. This, perhaps, is the most impressive one of his particular skills.
Okay, that or the defibrillator thing. That part’s kind of amazing.