Sunday, January 11, 2015

In Theaters: TAKEN 3 (2015)

(France/US - 2015)

Directed by Olivier Megaton. Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. Cast: Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Dougray Scott, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, David Warshofsky, Don Harvey, Dylan Bruno, Sam Spruell, Andrew Howard, Jonny Weston, Al Sapienza, Wallace Langham, Steve Coulter. (PG-13, 109 mins)

With no one else in his family left to be abducted by evil Albanian human traffickers and their vengeful relatives, retired CIA special ops badass Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) channels his inner Richard Kimble when he returns to his apartment, picks up a knife on the floor and finds the dead body of his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) just as the cops barge in and he looks guilty as hell. A fleeing Mills takes advantage of his extensive knowledge of the layout of every home in the neighborhood, eventually evading his pursuers via a secret door in someone's garage that leads to the L.A. River. Mills goes on a city-wide rampage to prove his innocence--causing millions of dollars of damage in the process--while being doggedly pursued by Deputy Marshal Sam Gerard--er, I mean, Detective Frank Dotzler (Forest Whitaker), who demonstrates his eccentricity and intelligence by constantly twirling a knight chess piece between his fingers and marveling at the wily Mills' ability to evade capture.

TAKEN 3 is the least and hopefully last of this Luc Besson action franchise. Neeson stumbled into a second career as an aging action hero with the surprise success of the first TAKEN back in 2009. That film seems like gritty neo-realism when held up against the events that unfold in TAKEN 3, in which everyone involved is simply going through the motions, starting with Neeson. The actor's seemingly effortless gravitas just fizzles here, and for the first time in his action-star phase, Neeson looks bored and completely checked out. One can't blame him, considering the idiocy of Besson's and Robert Mark Kamen's script and the abysmal direction of Besson protege and returning TAKEN 2 helmer Olivier Megaton, who previously steered another solid action series to its nadir with 2008's TRANSPORTER 3.  It's bad enough that the story is essentially a ripoff of THE FUGITIVE (with one of the guilty parties missing a pinky instead of an arm), but TAKEN 3 is dumb even by Besson standards. There's one sequence where Mills' daughter Kim (31-year-old Maggie Grace, still apparently playing 20 or 21), who jokes about inheriting her father's "OCD gene," is on her way to school and makes her morning stop at a carryout for a peach yogurt drink (always grabbing the fourth drink from the front) only this time, there's a note from her on-the-run dad on the fourth container back saying "Drink this now." It's been drugged with something to make her sick a bit later, but he did so in order to get her to leave her class and head to the restroom to vomit, where he's waiting with an antidote, so he can talk to her. Is there some reason he couldn't just put a note on the container telling her to meet him in the ladies' room near her class?  Why spike the yogurt smoothie and deliberately cause gastrointestinal distress?  What if she didn't make it to the restroom?  It just seems like more work than necessary. I'd say Mills was overthinking it, but there's absolutely no way that "overthinking" and "TAKEN 3" should be mentioned in the same sentence.

The plot is as standard-issue and by-the-numbers as it gets and a better script would've provided some more back-and-forth phone banter, mind games, and grudging respect between Neeson's Mills and Whitaker's Dotzler. Both actors are capable of more than TAKEN 3 allows them to do or cares for them to attempt. Of course Mills is being framed. Of course some stock Russian mobsters--led by ruthless ex-Spetsnaz killing machine Oleg Malankov (Sam Spruell)--are behind it all. And of course it has something to do with Malankov seeking revenge for some shady and collapsed business deal with Lenore's asshole husband Stewart, now played by Janssen's HEMLOCK GROVE co-star Dougray Scott (replacing Xander Berkeley), bland and lifeless here and looking like he still hasn't recovered from losing the role of Wolverine in 2000's X-MEN to second-choice Hugh Jackman after being stuck working on reshoots for the behind-schedule MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II. As dumb and uninspired as TAKEN 3 is (don't miss Mills driving a car down an elevator shaft), it's really Megaton's directing style that's the biggest deal-breaker. There is no scene that Megaton can't chop into nanosecond increments that would give Michael Bay a bout of vertigo. Action sequences are just a blurry smear of colors and quick cuts. Featuring three nausea-inducing car chases that make GETAWAY look like THE SEVEN-UPS, TAKEN 3's action is lost in a headachy haze of CGI vehicle flips and shaky-cam incoherence, much of which seems to be orchestrated around Neeson's stunt double. There are a few shots where you can tell Neeson is involved (the brawl in the carryout, for example), but most of the time, there's some alarmingly Seagal-esque chicanery going on where you see Mills fighting but not his face, as Megaton cuts to a close-up of a grimacing Neeson before cutting back to Mills fighting, as "Neeson" is either shot from behind or his head is out of the frame. On one hand, sure, at 62, Neeson's not a young man anymore, but in his other action movies, he's made a point of doing as much as he could. One can hardly blame him for not caring enough about the quality of TAKEN 3 or rightfully concluding that it wasn't worth risking injury on something so subpar. TAKEN was a surprise, lightning-in-a-bottle blockbuster that became a modern action classic. TAKEN 2 was an unnecessary but stupidly enjoyable victory lap. TAKEN 3 shows the franchise in a downward spiral worthy of the last two DIE HARD movies and is just no fun for anyone, from the actors to the audience. Liam Neeson is the man, and in films like THE GREY and A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, he brings a "thinking man's asskicker" complexity to his roles, and in something like NON-STOP, he manages to overcome the obstacles and still deliver a strong, convincing performance. But even Neeson can't conceal his TAKEN burnout with his half-hearted clock-punch of a performance here. Perhaps it's time for him to use the very particular set of skills that he's acquired over a long career and move on to something new.

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