At the midway point of “Taken 3,” there is a visible moment when everyone involved with this half-hearted sequel has decided to go through the motions. In pursuit of a bad guy through the winding hills of Malibu, the inexhaustible Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) has his car rammed from behind and pushed over a precipitous edge, where it tumbles end over end over end before exploding in a gigantic fireball that would nominally kill whoever was behind the wheel. But just a few minutes later, Mills has not only survived without a scratch, but has clambered up back to the road, hijacked a car, made his way to the nearest town, finds the guys who inconvenienced his ride, and promptly dispatches them in a liquor store.
The above is not a spoiler, but simply an indication that nothing in “Taken 3” matters. While Mills was indestructible in the first two movies, there was at least a semblance of stakes, with the lives of his daughter and wife in the balance. With those threats removed in “Taken 3,” which flips the script as Mills turns from hunter into hunted, there is not much to do but grimly grip the armrests of your theater seat and just ride out whatever incomprehensibly dull or silly thing happens next.
In the event you do want to know what the meagre plot is all about, I’ll fill you. Essentially, Mills receives a text from his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) one morning, urging him to meet at his apartment so they can have bagels and talk. Mills, an honorable man who also likes bagels, retrieves them from a local café and promptly returns home. Don’t forget about those fresh bagels because they will be an important clue, but anyway, Mills’ Special Skills Sense starts tingling as soon as he walks in the door, and before he can get the cream cheese out, he discovers his ex-wife dead on his bed, her throat slit, then notices two cops at his back with their guns drawn. It’s a set up! But Mills makes quick work of the beat cops, and goes on the run, eager to prove his innocence. But where Richard Kimble was just a regular doctor caught in a tough spot in “The Fugitive,” in “Taken 3,” Mills is able to retreat to a safe house and grab a stash that includes guns, clothing and high tech gear, plus he’s got his golfing crew of ex-special agents to help him out. There is no doubt about the outcome, so why bother getting too worked up about it?
The script from producer and co-writer Luc Besson (who apparently needed to intellectually and creatively meld minds with Robert Mark Kamen to create this airless actioner) simply has Mills going from one place to another, attempting to figure out the machinations of the undercooked and poorly conceived conspiracy around him. Hot on his tail is cop Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker), who enjoys carrying a chess piece around for no apparent reason and constantly pulls at an elastic band around his wrist. I think both of those affectations were methods Whitaker used to keep himself awake or to prevent him from thinking too much about the plot, because if Mills and Dotzler would’ve taken a moment to talk to each other and examine the case from all angles, they would’ve cracked it in ten minutes. Certainly, it’s not a great brain tease to figure out who the Big Bad is in the movie, as there’s only five major characters in the film, and one of them is played by the aforementioned Janssen. RIP.
Okay, so the “Taken” films have never been cerebrally rigorous, but if you came looking for action, may I remind you that bagels provide a crucial moment of realization for Dotzler. Olivier Megaton, who has forged a career of never living up to his amazing surname, directs inasmuch as he’s the guy behind the camera who indicates when the actors should move and talk and when they shouldn’t. He’s a lot more excited when guns are firing, dudes are getting punched or people are getting chased, so much so that he can’t hold the camera still, and the poor editors (it took the team of Audrey Simonaud and Nicolas Trembasiewicz to patch this together) are left to make the action sequences coherent. So the greatest special effect in the movie is how seamlessly Simonaud and Trembasiewicz cut together Neeson and his stunt double.
You might think from this review that “Taken 3” is already a candidate for one of the worst movies of 2015 —if only. Sadly, the sequel isn’t even so bad as to be memorable. Instead, it’s vaporous, not even possessing the qualities indicating that anyone involved cared about any detail of the film. Even the title itself seems lazy, as no one taken against their will this time around. In fact, it’s the audience’s time and money that gets snatched, and not even Bryan Mills, with all his special skills, can stop that from happening. [D]