by Adam Riske
The original Taken was not great but it was fantastic in its own peculiar way. It was also aided by coming as a complete surprise when it was dumped into theaters in January 2009. Taken reached many viewers on a primal level with its terrific premise: “What would you do to the people who kidnapped your daughter?” In its execution of that idea, Taken is flawless, unleashing an action bloodlust in the viewer by proxy of a hero who is completely in the right in his actions. There is no gray area in Taken. It was a trashy movie, but it was great trash. In the case of Taken 2 and Taken 3...not so much.
The material for the franchise has been stretched thin over three movies; neither having much of a unifying arc or an evolving personality as the series has progressed. A problem with the sequels is that they don’t have that gut-level drive that made the original work. They needed a new angle. Unfortunately, the one they took (of an increasingly stupid action franchise) has not come together into anything edgy, suspenseful or entertaining. Taken 2 was terrible, so my expectations were low going into Taken 3. At that level, Taken 3 is better than Taken 2 but still not very good.
This new sequel plays like a direct-to-video knockoff of The Fugitive, but fails where that movie succeeded at being an exciting action movie and an intriguing mystery. I wanted to have an alright time with Taken 3, which I did for a little while, but that all went out the window with its first action sequence.
Taken 3 (and Taken 2) were directed by Olivier Megaton, a disciple of Luc Besson. By evidence of his directorial output, Megaton is, well, let’s just say, a hacky director of action. Being that action is his specialty, that presents a problem. The action in Taken 3 is among some of the worst I’ve seen from a major studio release. It’s shot and edited like you’re fast-forwarding a DVD. It’s all quick frames that, when viewed in succession, become a jumbled mess. It seems actually difficult to direct action scenes this poorly. I would think it would be easier not to cut an action sequence to shreds, but that’s not the approach that Megaton took. It’s total garbage.
I enjoyed some of the non-action sequences in the movie, in particular the sweet and corny relationship between Neeson and his on-screen daughter Maggie Grace. The two have strong rapport and give the movie (and the series) some much-needed heart. Being that it’s a Luc Besson production, their relationship is beyond bizarre (he treats her like she’s 10 years old and she acts like she’s 10 years old most of the time) but it’s endearing to me because it’s so square. I particularly enjoyed Neeson presenting the college-aged Grace with an oversized panda stuffed animal as a birthday present and also the way he talks to her when she says that she wants to get a puppy. The way he lays it out so practically is hilarious. I could watch a thousand movies of just Liam Neeson being a devoted father to Maggie Grace. I don’t need any of those movies to have action in them.
New to the cast (in the Tommy Lee Jones/The Fugitive role) is a rubber-band in hand Forest Whitaker, who is always a welcome addition to a movie. However, the script saddles him with being one of the most illogical police officers you can imagine. At one point he has a deduction about bagels (which proves the Neeson character’s innocence to him) that seems rather flimsy and arbitrary; at other times, he doesn’t even seem too concerned with his job of bringing Neeson’s character into custody. On more than one occasion, Whitaker’s team will have a lead on Neeson to which Whitaker just says something like (I’m paraphrasing) “He’s too smart for that…don’t even bother following him.” What????
I like bad January movies. I look forward to them. After the glut of quality releases from the last quarter of the year, I want to see some quality trash. It’s the time of the year I’m the most tolerant of bad movies. Unfortunately, Taken 3 does not quench that meager thirst. It’s lazy and stupid, which I am willing to cut some slack (at this time of the year) but it’s hard to really get worked up about the movie in any way. I just sort of sat there and watched it. I shrugged and thought “whatever” and then I went home.