It is called Taken 3. Not Tak3n. I can't express how disappointed that fact makes me, and if I were able to, it would probably just make you suspect that I had some severe emotional problems.

So anyway, the grand finale that isn't to a trilogy that wasn't supposed to be, and who among us can even feign surprise that the film's not any damn good at all. I expect the debates to rage among the Taken faithful for ages, assuming they haven't already taken place and fizzled out over the weekend (assuming, as well, that the Taken faithful exist), whether Taken 3, is, on balance, a better or worse sequel than Taken 2; the new film is certainly the more incompetently made and horribly written, with less obvious justification for the story it's telling to have ever come into existence, but it's also so puckish about being awful that it's a lot less boring. I've honestly thought more about whether the film crosses the "so bad that it's good" line than anything else about it; on the one hand, a car chase scene botched so badly that I was struck with an intense yawning fit right in the middle of it. On the other, the sullen line "I got the bagels", which in context is the funniest sentence delivered by Liam Neeson in the entirety of his career.

Letting that issue sit to the side for a bit, what is this thing called Taken 3? Some little time after Taken and Taken 2, ex-CIA superbadass Bryan Mills (Neeson) is living a more quiet existence in Los Angeles being a good dad to his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, who is just too damn old to be playing a college student at this point if they're not going to make a joke about it), and a friend to his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), especially the kind of friend who looks deep into your eyes as you tell him all the problems you're having with your second husband Stuart (Dougray Scott, taking over a role originated by Xander Berkeley). There are points where, I swear to God, Taken 3 stops everything cold to walk through the details of a sad divorced man's daydreams for minutes at a time. It's a perfect life, right up to the time that Lenore is killed in Bryan's apartment and the LAPD, in the form of Frank Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) starts to hunt for him. But as we have learned twice over, Bryan Mills cannot be caught by any mortal, and the only added difficulty for him this time around is that his opponents are all Americans and thus too precious to be mowed through as indiscriminately as the various foreigners in the first two pictures. Luckily for his sanity, the film eventually unloads a crate of Tattooed Russian Mobsters, so the body count can start ramping up.

It already beggared belief to have another kidnapping situation form the spine of Taken 2 in the wake of Taken, so it's at least worth being grateful that the film didn't try to shoehorn another one of those in. But it does raise the question of why, with so many "Liam Neeson shouts, kills" movies these days, this needed to be a Taken at all; all that really does is saddle the movie with a bunch of characters it has to try to pretend to care about, as though anyone has ever watched any of these movies because they're so invested in Grace's performance of a well-layered character. I'd say that having the Taken branding is the only thing that disguises the degree to which Taken 3 is an uncredited remake of The Fugitive, but let's not get carried away. It doesn't disguise that fact at all. There's even a more-or-less exact analogue to the "I didn't kill my wife!"/"I don't care!" scene, though it doesn't come at the same time as the more-or-less exact analogue to the escape-through-a-drain-system scene.

Just about the only thing it doesn't borrow from The Fugitive, actually, is the tense raw-nerve psychology of that film's cop and hunted man. Neeson and Whitaker are both old pros at breathing life into shaky characters buried in crap scripts, but Taken 3 strands them both beyond even their ability to resurrect anything. Whitaker is particularly burdened with some unfortunate business involving an unexplained wooden chess piece that he rolls around - in extreme, dramatic close-up, no less - and a proclivity for eating evidence. Also, some of the worst lines in a screenplay not unduly burdened with literacy (the very worst of which also involves bagels). Neeson just looks tired and old, and the way he processes the action movie shenanigans of the piece carries with it a certain wheezy impatience, like the "grizzled action badass" phase of his career stopped being fun, and when the hell is Scorsese going to get that movie about the priests into production, anyway?

Or it could just be that being in Taken 3 would depress anybody. The whole thing is a klutzy lattice of inscrutable jerry-rigged plotting, which makes things complicated that needn't be, and which are anyway all blinds on the way towards the patently obvious shocker moment two-thirds in. And the action is just pure, unmitigated shit: the first major chase sequence, a footrace through L.A. (doing a poor job of replacing the more picturesque locations of the first two movies) is maddeningly choppy, stretching even the simplest action - Bryan scrambling over a six-foot fence, for example - into more individual cuts than you can possibly imagine. It took goddamn five shots to get Neeson and his stunt double over that fence. All it does is reduce the clarity of the action to nil, just incoherent flashes of movement that don't connect to the equally-incoherent flashes immediately before or following, adding no sense of momentum, since without any kind of linear context, momentum is a meaningless concept. I haven't been so viscerally angry at the cutting in an action setpiece since the opening of Quantum of Solace. The worst part of all, is that this isn't even the worst action scene in the movie: the car chase scene is even harder to make sense of, and it's sluggish on top of it. By the time a totally uninteresting but basically legible fight in a liquor store comes around, it feels like the second coming of John Woo.

All of this noisy, indecipherable nonsense and floppy, dismally uninteresting character drama that the film parades around as though it were even remotely possible to care about it - the dead ex-wife & mother is only really an issue for the characters in the scenes where she is discovered and buried - is brought to us by the gentle hand of producer & co-writer Luc Besson's worst stock company director, Oliver Megaton. Mr. Megaton was not born under that name; he adopted it as a nom de cinΓ©ma owing to the fact he was born on the 20th anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshma. That's only a matter of trivia, and it's not the first time I've mentioned it on this blog. But if I tell you that Taken 3 feels in every way exactly like a movie made by a man who would take that name, for that reason, I trust you will understand what I mean.

Reviews in this series
Taken (Morel, 2008)
Taken 2 (Megaton, 2012)
Taken 3 (Megaton, 2014)