Liam Neeson's perennially pursued, particularly skilled operative tears down Los Angeles in the final installment of Luc Besson's avenger-on-the-run franchise.
Taken 3 begins with CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) realizing that surprising his college-age daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), for her birthday is not exactly part of his now-famous "particular set of skills." It's a cutesy touch that points to producer Luc Besson's ham-fisted attempt to introduce some variety into the latest entry in his money-raking franchise.
Replacing the first two films' simplistic, man-on-the-run premise with a stuttering plot comparatively light on action and stuffed with red herrings and inconsequential characters (Forest Whitaker, for one, plays one of the most vacuous roles of his career), Besson's team has signed off the trilogy with a whimper rather than the kind of unfettered bang delivered by the first two films. That may compromise the movie's performance at the box office as it unspools internationally (the first port of call being Hong Kong on Jan. 1) before reaching the U.S. on Jan. 9.
Strangely, Besson and his long-running series co-writer Robert Mark Kamen seem to have overlooked the one thing that made Taken and Taken 2 tick: the appeal of leading man Neeson, the anguished and aging action-hero who tries, with solitary and superhuman effort, to save his family.
The franchise's premise is slightly different from the very beginning, as nobody gets abducted in Taken 3. Instead, Mills hurtles across Los Angeles partly to evade lawmen wrongly convinced he has killed his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), and also to look for, find and kill those who framed him of the murder.
Those expecting Mills to tear around town like he did in Paris and Istanbul in the first two films will be disappointed — apart from minor pyrotechnics in some buildings and a pile-up on the 710, Los Angeles is spared excessive mayhem. That's because the flow of the action is repeatedly interrupted by Mills' needless clandestine meet-ups with Kim and by sequences of Detective Franck Dotzler (Whitaker) either pondering the alleged murder while eating bagels or ordering around his underlings. These digressions deflate the tension that kept the first two Taken installments afloat as pieces of relentless high-octane spectacle; with Mills no longer dashing around as much, the viewer has more time to be bothered by the implausibility and illogic of the narrative.
Visually, Taken 3 offers more of the same. In line with the plethora of aerial shots that marked his first stab at the series in Taken 2, director Olivier Megaton basically deploys more of the same here. Somewhat incredibly, the film even ends with the exact same Malibu Pier shot that concluded the previous film. While adept at bombastic action scenes, the French director of Transporter 3 and Colombiana struggles to come up with imaginative ways to play out some of the drama the complicated plot calls for. There's a notable lack of subtlety, for instance, in the crucial relationship between Kim and her stepfather, Stuart (Dougray Scott, replacing the considerably older Xander Berkeley from the first film), or in the hackneyed flashback sequence outlining the personal background of the film's villain, over-the-top Russian gangster Oleg Malankov (Sam Spruell).
Compared to the first two entries, Taken 3 has in some ways matured and mellowed, with politically incorrect racial stereotypes that were flagrant in the earlier films no longer apparent this time around. If only the filmmakers could have conjured something more substantial to replace the gratuitous bone-crackers of yore. In any case, there's a dangling thread here allowing for more future Mills-induced mayhem, even if we're told over and over that "it ends here."