Prior to 2008, Liam Neeson had only dabbled in high-octane roles that required a lot of physicality, which got him away from the doldrums of period romances and revered dramas. But it wasn’t until the original Taken film premiered that his career trajectory made a complete one-eighty, sending Neeson into the stratosphere of mad-dog action hero (and in-demand voice actor… and comedian? Hey, it works). Since then, Neeson has been stuck delivering what amounts to the same basic character trapped in the same basic scenario — a man pretending to be just another “average Joe” who actually has a secret past and some tremendous “skills” is pulled back into the life he left behind long ago to hunt down some unknown terrorist to save the world (and his family). The films are more often than not released in January (his next film with this premise, Run All Night, debuts in April), and that includes Taken 3, Neeson’s final ride (or so they want you to believe) as Bryan Mills, the beleaguered ex-special forces operative who wants nothing more than a peaceful life with his loving family.
But hold your horses; this isn’t your average Taken. Unlike the first two films, Taken 3 switches gears to become an average man-on-the-run Fugitive knock-off with a familiar set of characters. When Bryan finds his wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), lying dead on his bed one morning, he goes on the lamb to track down the real killers.
“I didn’t kill my wife!”
“I don’t care.”
If thoughts of this exchange continually run through your head as you watch the film, you’re not alone. Other than Bryan Mills, Lenore and their daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), the only thing that makes this a Taken film is when Lenore is kidnapped from some out-of-the-way parking lot prior to her death. I guess if you really wanted to play semantics, you could say that the things being “taken” in this movie are Lenore’s life and Bryan’s freedom… but that is a bit of a stretch. Furthering Taken 3‘s detachment from the franchise, producers have opting for the comfort of Los Angeles this time around over some picturesque locale, and nothing that happens to Bryan and his family is in any way connected to the past (aside from the villains knowing about Bryan’s infamous reputation).
I know repeating the same scenario over again would have really been stretching our ability to suspend disbelief beyond its limits, but don’t you think that might have been the first red flag for producers that perhaps the franchise has run its course? It begs the question of how much the studios are willing to risk on name recognition and how willing an audience is to spend more time with a certain set of characters. The best thing about returning to the franchise and keeping it local was being able to see Bryan’s trio of friends (Jon Gries, David Warshofsky and Andrew Borba) get more to do and have a little fun in the process. It still wasn’t as much as it could have been, but it was a welcome addition, even if one of them never got the sense of finality he deserved.
Joining the fray are Don Harvey and Dylan Bruno as a pair of detectives tracking Bryan as he tears up L.A. (mostly with their help). Always a step behind, the detectives are given very little to do but sit around and watch. They become the designated fools a couple of times as Bryan outsmarts them, sometimes in inexplicable circumstances, such as when he somehow finds an entrance to the sewer under a beat-up old truck in some random person’s garage, and other than a few typical quips and razzing between partners, there isn’t a whole lot to them.
At least Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker, moseying about with his signature righteous arrogance), the lead investigator looking into what happened to Lenore, is given some characterization that goes beyond stock status, even if some of his quirks are a bit stereotypical. Beyond his knack for seeing things others can’t see and refraining from jumping to any conclusions, Dotzler also carries around a chess piece (a knight, to be specific) and has a rubber band that he occasionally snaps across his wrist or plays with when he’s struggling to complete his task of bringing Lenore’s killer to justice. There isn’t a lot (if any) explanation for why these things matter to this man, but at least it gives him depth, something that can’t be said for a lot of the elements in the film.
Because of the format change, I already felt removed from Bryan’s plight, so when the producers up the ante on what is considered believable, and at the same time heighten his skill-set, it’s hard to relate to what’s happening and enjoy the film on the same level as the original. Most of the action follows a similar structure to any random action movie, with a car chase here, a foot chase there and lots of gunfire and fist fights, but Bryan’s invincibility is so heightened, not only does he hardly get a scratch after some harrowing stunt work, nothing he touches ever seems to get destroyed either. I mean, I never knew a Porshe had a strong enough body to withstand smashing through a locked fence and taking out the wheel of a private plane, all without getting one scratch! Now that’s a powerful car only James Bond could love.
The funny thing is, I still had a fun time watching it. Neeson’s bravura is as electric as ever and it’s still a thrill to see him search for clues, find his way to the end of the puzzle and wipe out some bad guys. It’s the only reason people return to these types of films and the reason why studios will keep making them, no matter how twisted or convoluted the plots become. Neeson has found a decent niche that works well for his gravelly voice and overbearing demeanor, but just as he was typecast with one particular set of skills before Taken, if he doesn’t try to branch out a little more than he has been, I feel he might find himself stuck in a hole he can’t get out of.
My Grade: B
Next week, new movies include The Wedding Ringer, Blackhat and Paddington. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.