Six Januarys ago, Liam Neeson made the unlikely leap from respected thespian to bankable ass-kicker by starring in Taken, a propulsively brutish and surprisingly successful dose of dadsploitation produced by the reliably pulpy likes of Luc Besson (The Professional, Lucy). The formula has only seen diminishing returns of late, both with Neeson (Taken 2) and without (Kevin Costner in 3 Days to Kill, Pierce Brosnan in The November Man).
Just as Charles Bronson reluctantly saddled up for increasingly belabored Death Wish sequels well into his 70s, Taken 3 wheezes by with an inescapable sense of fatigue as Neeson enters his 60s. Having been framed for the murder of his ex-wife (Janssen), retired CIA operative Bryan Mills demonstrates a very familiar set of skills as his good name is taken for a change. The lack of a central abduction may have been a conscious effort by Besson and co-writer Robert Mark Kamen to break from routine, but this substituted plot invites easy comparison to the still-crackerjack thrills of 1993’s The Fugitive, with Forest Whitaker’s dogged detective Dotzler standing in for Tommy Lee Jones as Neeson scampers across Los Angeles in pursuit of his tormentors.
Worse yet is the return of Taken 2 helmer Olivier Megaton, whose proven incompetence with orchestrating coherent set-pieces (Colombiana, Transporter 3) is only further compounded by the need to cut around an aging star. Whether it’s an impossibly bloodless penthouse shootout or a highway chase culminating in a drive down an elevator shaft (you read that right), these frenetic action beats are all aftermath and afterthought. There isn’t even a moment amid the running and gunning as insipidly inspired as the last film’s idea of using grenade-tossing triangulation to save the day.
Furthermore, Taken 3 doesn’t demonstrate the good sense to keep its brainless antics pared down to 90 minutes, tacking on an extra reel’s worth of wheel-spinning as Bryan’s daughter, Kim (Grace), needlessly hides her pregnancy from dear old dad while Dotzler helps himself to crime-scene bagels (again, you read that right) as part of his inevitable journey toward accepting Mills’ innocence. All the while, Neeson retains his God-given gravitas and trademark ferocity; he’s as comfortable bantering with a giant stuffed panda as he is interrogating Russian thugs. As The Grey confirmed, his own particular set of skills merits this recent career renaissance; truth be told, he and we both deserve a better showcase for them than this cacophonous assembly of something resembling excitement.
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