Friday, January 9, 2015

Once, Twice, Three Times a Taking: TAKEN 3

Taken 3 is the least in its series, which in turn has been among the least of star Liam Neeson’s recent spate of action roles. Unlike his good to great films of late (The Grey, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Non-Stop), these movies are only about how many people Neeson’s Bryan Mills, an ex-special ops guy with a particular set of skills, has to kill to get a member of his family back from the bad guys. The first had a single-mindedness that worked for it more than not, especially if you can ignore its uglier vigilante tendencies. The second wasn’t even that good, but at least had its moments of committed goofiness, like grenade-based echolocation. This third time around, it’s just lazy, requiring bigger jolts to get less effect. Now he has to kill a whole bunch of people just to feel better about losing a loved one, this taking being of a more permanent kind.

After much throat-clearing exposition, Mills discovers the murder of his ex-wife (Famke Janssen, turning up for a cameo that’s half corpse). He just got back to his apartment after buying fresh bagels and finds her dead in his bed, bloody knife left dripping nearby. The cops aren’t far behind. Naturally, they think he did it, so he goes on the run to clear his name, protect his now-college aged daughter (Maggie Grace), and find the people responsible. As the detective on the case and on the chase, Forest Whitaker, who hilariously eats the fresh bagels out of the active crime scene, interviews the ex-wife’s husband (Dougray Scott) who asks if this has to do with those two times Mills got caught up in nasty business overseas. Whitaker’s reaction to the question is so underplayed to be nonexistent. It’s like he hears about suspects’ serial vigilante killing sprees everyday. Maybe he’s seen the earlier movies too.

Neeson spends the entirety of the movie on the run in a sleepy riff on The Fugitive. The reasons for this are protracted and stupid, easily the stupidest plot co-writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen have yet concocted. It’s not just absurd. I could handle that. It’s wholly unnecessary. Neeson flees the authorities, pursuing his own sense of justice despite A.) a solid alibi, and B.) almost immediately discovering video evidence that, if turned over to Whitaker, would point cops directly to the real baddies. I mean, I know Neeson’s the best of the best, but wouldn’t he rather clear his name and let the police arrest the clearly guilty bad guys? I guess he prefers the collateral damage implied in a reckless chase down a freeway, an explosion on a college campus, and a shootout in a skyscraper. It makes it hard to disagree when, late in the game, Scott turns to Grace and says, “Your dad’s a homicidal maniac!”

This superfluous running, jumping, shooting, punching, and chasing (all PG-13 bloodless, naturally) would be better off if we could at least enjoy it. But there’s a sense of mercenary profit-based laziness involved, as if everyone did the least they could to get the paycheck by pumping out another entry in the brand. Barely comprehensible action scenes are a perfect compliment to the dumb connective tissue between them. This is director Olivier Megaton’s sloppiest deployment of chaos cinema, quick edits and haphazardly framed shaky cam hiding most effects and many causes in the dimly imagined action. Worst, it obscures how Neeson gets out of most of his close calls. At one point he backs his car down an elevator shaft, plummets several stories, and groans. Then the car explodes, elaborately and with many angles. After an edit, we find he’s on the phone in a different location. How’d he do that? I get the feeling no one knows and, worse, no one cares. I know I don’t.

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