The usual is packaged with the new in the latest franchise instalment, albeit with less action and more awkwardness.
When approaching sequels that forged ahead after the impressive box office performance of their predecessors, it is worth considering the strengths of that first film. Did audiences flock to its star, better known in dramatic roles, unleashing his tough-talking, fist-flying side? Were frenetic chase scenes and the energetic eradication of a plethora of villains stylishly handled? Did the simple story provide just enough of a framework for the performances and action to hang off of? Was the feature short, sharp, and startlingly effective?
That’s what shot Taken to fame in 2008, and saw Taken 2 attempt to repeat the exact same feat in 2012, albeit with much less finesse. That’s also what endeared the idea of a third instalment in the franchise to its financiers, mooted as the final outing. Consequently, it hardly is surprising that the latest offering balances precariously upon a heaped serving of violence and vengeance that piles up more of the same. What is unexpected is that in an effort to extend the antics – and the running time – once again, the film fruitlessly endeavours to broaden its narrative and ambit.
Initially, former government operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson, A Walk Among the Tombstones) found his over-protective parenting and general paranoia proven justified when his 17-year-old daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace, TV’s Californication), was kidnapped by an Albanian crime ring while holidaying in Paris. After he saves the day, revenge inspires more gangsters to turn to abduction, this time trying to take down the whole family – including Bryan’s ex-wife and Kim’s mother Lenore (Famke Janssen, X-Men: Days of Future Past) – in Istanbul.
In Taken 3, the trio stay in Los Angeles, still trying to find normality in their fractured set-up. The bonds that have been reformed through extreme circumstances are tested once more, with Lenore’s second husband, Stuart (Hemlock Grove’s Dougray Scott, taking over the role from the first feature’s Xander Berkeley), watching on. When Bryan is framed for a murder he didn’t commit courtesy of more Eastern European rogues, police detective Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker, Out of the Furnace) also becomes entangled in the Mills brood’s mess. Of course, proving his innocence isn’t Bryan’s chief priority; safeguarding Kim remains his main concern.
After directing Taken 2, Olivier Megaton returns to the helm with series writing duo Luc Besson (Lucy) and Robert Mark Kamen (Bandidas). Also sharing Transporter 3 and Colombiana on their respective resumes, their collaboration is workmanlike, clearly the result not of creativity, but of treading water because that’s all that is required. A shower of overt paternal love here, the repetition of established dynamics there, and the film is underway. Add a sprinkling of familiar shots careening through car chases and jerkily depicting physical confrontation, with a dash of disbelief at the MacGyver-like way the protagonist can extricate himself from any situation, and you know where their movie is headed.
For all the feature’s adherence to the over-edited stylistic template, and its reliance upon the recognisable traits of its still thinly-drawn characters, too, no one is really taken in what amounts to a wrong-man thriller shoehorned into the franchise – the purported expansion of the premise. In this approach, Taken 3 may improve upon the laughable relentlessness of its immediate antecedent, which boiled the strengths of the first film down to its barest bones; however it overcorrects, diminishing the action in favour of an unnecessary angle and incongruous padding, and seemingly plastering the Taken name, cast, crew and family-first sentiment over a completely unrelated concept.
Accordingly, sans tension but abundant in incredulity and awkwardness, Neeson and his co-stars go through the motions. The star grimaces menacingly and spouts catchphrases, Grace still plays the little girl lost and still fails to convince, and Janssen is again given little to do, her character a mere plot complication. Newcomers Scott and Whitaker also paint by the numbers, peddling their stock-standard on-screen traits of untrustworthy and obsessive, as well as their usual character functions – as their individual credits attest. In Taken 3, the usual is packaged with the new, but both can do nothing more than flounder, even with their very particular set of skills amply exploited.
Rating: 2 stars out of 5
Director: Olivier Megaton
France, 2014, 109 mins
Release date: January 8
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