Film review: TAKEN 3, from Built For Speed

Before it descended into torture porn and the mass slaughter of appallingly stereotyped swarthy Eastern Europeans, the first Taken film was a tense and exciting action/drama with convincingly visceral fight scenes, a darkly menacing Paris setting and a memorable lead performance from Liam Neeson who, as former CIA spook Brian Mills, beat up half of Europe to recover his kidnapped daughter (Maggie Grace).  The second instalment, however, was a bona fide turkey as it clung to the stereotypes but lost the potent action and too often resorted to ludicrous plot devices such as Neeson’s daughter casually lobbing hand grenades around Istanbul.  Unfortunately, Taken 3 is just as bad.  Set entirely in LA, this clumsy misfire tries to tap into the ‘innocent man on the run’ thrills of The Fugitive but winds up as a silly, unconvincing and unintentionally funny mess.

With Taken 3, writer/ producer Luc Besson and director Olivier Megaton have once again tried to shove a right wing revenge fantasy down our throats.  In what is hopefully the final instalment in the series, Mills has been accused of murder and has had to disappear into a world of special ops safe houses known only to his former CIA buddies while he fights to clear his name and find those responsible for the crime.  Forget about simply letting justice takes it course or trusting the authorities, no, this situation requires a mass-murdering white male with endless supplies of weaponry and the apparent power of invisibility to bring the real killers to justice (his brand not civilisation’s).  The film even endorses water-boarding as a means of information gathering.

The only thing preventing this film from being nauseatingly offensive is the fact that it is so cartoonish and ridiculous.  Neeson survives flaming car wrecks and bombs without a scratch and even when facing an elite armed assassin at point blank range in an enclosed space is still impossible to hit.  Even more comical is the depiction of the Russian mob who seem to be tied up in the murder of which Mills is accused.  Despite being former Spetznatz soldiers they’re completely inept in combat and politely stand still while Mills slaps the Borscht out of them.  Their leader Oleg (Sam Spruell) outdoes the fruity villain (Martin Csokas) from last year’s fascist turkey The Equalizer for scenery-chewing silliness.  Snarling ridiculous lines in a thick Boris Badanov accent and at one point prancing around in an offensive pair of underpants, he skittles any crime thriller cred this film might have had.

Taken 3’s clunky dialogue, hammy villains and dubious agenda might have been partially tolerable if it worked as an action film but it fails there too.  The fight scene editing is so manic and choppy that the action is as incomprehensible as the mind-numbing robot battles in the Transformers movies.

As Mills, Neeson was the first film’s trump card, a grungier James Bond with serious fighting skills and an endearingly gruff yet fatherly manner.  There’s barely a flicker of that original charisma here, though, as Mills has been reduced to a bland collection of clichés and catchphrases and seems to function as little more than a cypher for the film’s right-wing agenda.

The film-makers have recruited Forrest Whittaker to try to up the film’s acting credibility but while he’s effective as a cerebral sleuth, he hardly makes his pursuing lawman an indelible character the way Tommy Lee Jones did in The Fugitive.  Maggie Grace as Mill’s daughter Kim has been given a slither of character development but she is really just there to be whisked away by sweaty bad guys.

In a bizarre piece of casting , Xander Berkeley, who, in the first film played Stuart the new husband of Mills’ ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), has been replaced body snatcher-style by Doug Ray Scott.  The fact that Scott’s version of Stuart looks and behaves nothing like Berkeley’s is weirdly distracting.

The Taken films have well and truly run their course so let’s hope Liam ditches the leather coat and returns to credible roles that do justice to his talents as an actor.

Nick’s rating: *1/2.

Genre: Action/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Olivier Megaton.

Release date: 8th January 2015.

Running time: 109 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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