Taken 3 and the Alleged Guilty Pleasure of EuropaCorp

01/11/2015 2:35 PM |
"Uh huh... Yeah... Uh huh... Uh huh."

Any student of the Taken franchise, be it hardcore fan or casual observer, must be made to suffer (or glory) through Taken exposition, during which Liam Neeson interacts with his family in ways the movie imagines are relatable and down to earth. In Taken 3, this involves Neeson purchasing an oversized stuffed panda for his daughter’s birthday (she’s turning twirtysomething) and, later, repeatedly referring to himself and the panda as “us” when on the phone with his ex-wife (Famke Janssen). This raises the unreasonable hope that the third and (maybe) final entry in the (maybe) trilogy will be a buddy comedy between Neeson and the panda. Alas, they’re just casual friends.

Neeson is a gifted actor with decent range, yet there’s something insane about him lumbering through the business of buying stuffed animals and picking up bagels in the opening minutes of a Taken movie. He looks scaled wrong, like a G.I. Joe trying to play with Fisher Price people. By the third film in a series, it puts the audience in the awkward position of waiting impatiently for someone to get their ass taken, already. That’s not exactly what happens in Taken 3; Neeson has said in the press that “no one gets taken” in this one, because it would be silly, it happening a third time after the first two movies. That’s not exactly true, both because there’s no real possible violation of sanctity RE: the first Taken movie, with its hotbed of unknowable international sleaze waiting just outside the U2 arena show in Paris and because there are technically at least three or four takenings that occur during this movie. But, true, there aren’t any Eurotrash kidnappers that take a member of Neeson’s family; his vengeance this time is incited in more of a Fugitive way, where he finds his ex-wife dead just as the cops burst in, assuming he did it.

A low-rent Fugitive starring Liam Neeson sounds like precisely what January needs. This premise actually sounds less like a Taken movie than one of the neo-Hitchcock thrillers Neeson does with Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown and Non-Stop probably owe their existence to the success of the original Taken, but they’re much better movies). Neeson’s physicality looms somewhere between action hero and action hero’s boss; he’s known for his toughness but his fight scenes tend to be quick and dirty, not athletic or balletic. It’s why he cut such a strong figure through A Walk Among the Tombstones, a slick mystery thriller that didn’t connect with the Taken crowd.

Taken 3 is indeed the plottiest of the series so far, and least deadly. Because Neeson’s Bryan Mills is running around Los Angeles instead of a foreign country, having him kill a bunch of people would be, of course, far more distasteful than the trail of bodies he left around Paris and Istanbul. Instead, he does magic hacking and keeps retreating to his secret base underneath a scrapyard. It will disappoint the Taken faithful almost as fast as The Grey did, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; the best bits of Taken 2, arguably superior to the first film, involved improvised detective work, not indiscriminate killing. But the plotting of Taken 3 is also more workmanlike, bringing in its token Eurotrash henchmen almost as an afterthought (where more than two Eurotrash henchmen gather, Bryan Millers will appear and kill). Despite the dead ex-wife—ending the series’s long and awkward dance of possible remarriage—and some additional attempts at familial stakes-raising, Taken 3 feels like a perfunctory coda. This time, it’s vaguely impersonal.

Taken 3 was co-written by Luc Besson and directed by Olivier Megaton, which would sound suspiciously like a Besson nom de plume if it was possible that Besson felt any shame. Megaton is a EuropaCorp. closer; he finished out the Transporter series, too (at least before its ill-advised, Statham-free reboot, coming to ranty L Magazine columns everywhere this summer). He needs actors like Neeson and Statham to hold his frame, because he gets awfully antsy when he’s not shooting vehicles, punches, or guns. He paces the bookending family scenes so awkward that half the lines appear to be “…” Guys, I’m starting to think that this EuropaCorp. thing I should love may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Still, even if Taken 3 is only intermittently entertaining (Bryan Mills does take the time to drive a car into an elevator shaft, after all), Neeson the workhorse has your back: another Collet-Serra special is already locked and loaded for April.