TAKEN 3 Review

If only these Taken movies escalated themselves to an R-rating we might have something of more aspiration here. Instead, this series quickly dissolved into quick cash grabs that felt like little more than afterthoughts to everyone involved. The original film seemingly caught everyone off guard with its brilliant marketing campaign and the inherent rush of excitement it delivered to the point that when we were looking for more of the same from the sequel, none of those surprising feelings were readily available. It seemed the general consensus on the Olivier Megaton-directed sequel was that it was rather horrible and resorted to showing Liam Neeson's Bryan Mills smother folks to death rather than doing anything that was actually impressive. And yet, here we are with the third and presumably final film (again directed by Megaton no less) and it does little to redeem the legacy of what was originally the film responsible for bringing us the Neesploitation period, but may actually tarnish that legacy the more I continue to think and write about the film. If one wonders why such a pedigreed actor such as Neeson would continue to return to a series that has long since run its course you'd only have to look as far as his paycheck to find an answer. To be clear: Taken 3 has a reported budget of $48 million and almost half of that budget was consumed by the actors salary. For this third film Neeson was paid a handsome, and very exclusive, $20 million. So, if you thought the makers of this unnecessary sequel might take the road less traveled or that Mr. Neeson might use his pull and demand he only appear in the film if they came up with a story that truly justified another film you're sorely out of luck as he is laughing all the way to the bank. People clearly don't care though because despite the second film being little more than a cash grab with little effort to hide that intention and this third film being nothing except more of the same, folks still showed up in droves when they could have been seeing the best film of the year instead.

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) comforts his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), after the death of her mother.
More than anything Taken 3 is irritating. If not for completely disregarding the actions of the second film, but for giving Lenore (Famke Jenssen) another husband rather than re-connecting with Mills as the end of the Taken 2 so clearly implied she would. Instead, the credited story by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen pushes Lenore into a third marriage with Stuart St. John (Dougray Scott) strictly for the reasons of setting up a plot for their third movie. If anything, this makes us question Lenore is general as she just continues to go from man to man while clearly still wanting to share more than just their daughter with Bryan. To keep a long story short and without going into deeper character analysis than Besson and Kamen cared to do, Taken 3 opens with Bryan visiting his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace returning to play a now college student at the age of thirty), he meets with Lenore at his apartment who brings up her marriage with St. John is fizzling and that she again has feelings for him. This of course only infuriated me because you have to wonder why she married for a third time to some random without having the foresight to know it was going to come to this; everyone in the audience could have guessed it. St. John later shows up at Mills apartment after his wife has left and expresses concern with he and Lenore's relationship and his wish that Mills not be around Lenore anymore unless it pertains to Kim. Understanding and respectful of his wishes, Bryan puts up no fight. Still, the next day Lenore is brutally murdered inside Bryan's apartment. You can see where this is going, right? Framed for the murder, Besson and Kamen have basically reconfigured The Fugitive for their Taken protagonist and force Mills to use his "particular set of skills," to track down the real killers, exact his unique brand of justice and protect the only thing he has left in the world-his daughter.  

First things first, let's talk about bagels. Yes, bagels. Why? You ask, well because Taken 3 seems to be fascinated by the bread. Maybe it is an elaborate metaphor that goes like this: Mills innocence hinges on the clue provided by the fresh bread which serves to tell us not only the case, but the movie at large is all about the money. Still, Neeson should be set free of these pigeon-holing shackles because just as Mills unknowingly provides the key clue to his innocence with the bread it is the money Neeson receives in exchange for his presence that corrupts his otherwise modest career choices. In short, the movie is all about the bread, but also represents Mills innocence which gives Neeson an out for his understandable choices both in and out of his character. Bit of a stretch? Sure, but I'll take it because that's what is going on here as Neeson will walk away unharmed and with a massive amount of cash in his pocket while audiences are left with a sub-par and insulting project. We are introduced to detective Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) shortly after the murder of Lenore is revealed and it is in this character that we see the oddity of bagels playing a large role in the film come into focus. Not only does Dotzler sit down on the bed of a murder scene, but he digs into evidence, finds that the bagels are still hot and begins to chow down declaring to his peers that they are in fact, "pretty good." Later on, as he sits at a small diner munching on another kind of pastry he receives a call from officers tracking Kim who report nothing out of the ordinary other than a stop at a gas station for her routine devouring of a yogurt peach drink. This somehow gives Whitaker's character an insight and he is off to pick up on clues his co-horts would never put together, but that's mainly because they hinge on food and he only comes to the realization because he too was wallowing in the delight of bagels and doughnuts at the same time. And so, again, in short, this movie is ridiculous.

Mills squares off with Detective Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) in Taken 3.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...you know how it goes. This was my hope when they actually decided to go through with a third film and while it is hard to fault Neeson for throwing away any artistic vision for the amount he received for doing this project it is depressing that people continue to support such lame and lazy affairs. My hope was that folks who flocked out to the first sequel were so disappointed that they wouldn't return for a third go around. One would assume we all know what to expect (or what not to) at this point and audiences presumably knew well enough the series had nowhere else to go. Still, and yet again, here we are. If they were going to make another film though, which I realize was always a guarantee after the sequel made more money than the original, my only hope was that they might instead go the route of making a Bryan Mills centered film in the vein of Jack Ryan or Alex Cross rather than involving his family again. Those jobs his friends are always asking him to go on, make one of those go awry or something, but not with the mother/daughter again-that story has run its course. Uber-producer Besson would likely object quickly in this approach given it would take the personal investment out of Mills adventures. This would at least provide something of a fresh perspective on the character rather than another uninspired sequel that has no a trace of character development though. Remember when Kim wanted to be a singer? Where are the little details like that? Where is the care for the relationships? There is no such thing here and in fact, the filmmakers are so careless they cast Dougray Scott in a role where we're to assume he's not the bad guy. Yeah, way to go with the subtle approach, guys! Besides these clear violations of any credible endeavor being made from this series though, this third film thrives on Whitaker's scenery-chewing performance and the outlandish set-ups and action sequences that would have killed the sixty-two year-old Neeson ten times over. More than enduring the toll this is clearly taking on Neeson though it really hurts because I so shamelessly enjoyed the first movie and that sense of fun has completely dried up.