IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 109 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In Los Angeles, a man is kidnapped and forced to open a safe, but the money isn’t there and he is shot. Meanwhile Bryan Mills has relocated to the same city where his daughter Kim finds out that she is pregnant but can’t bring herself to tell him. Also living nearby is his ex-wife and Kim’s mother Lenore, whose marriage with Stuart is going badly. Though Mills turns her down, Stuart pays him a visit and tells him to stop seeing his wife. The next day, Mills receives a text from Lenore, to whom Mills has given a key to his house, asking him to come home where he finds Lenore dead in bed with her throat slit. The police burst in and find him holding the murder weapon….
I wanted my first review, after a short break, of the year to be a good one, but sadly it’s not going to be the case. Taken 3 is a thoroughly stupid and inept excuse for an action movie that at time is just as bad and incompetent as The Expendables 3 [what is it with part threes at the moment?]. The only really good thing about it is Liam Neeson, an actor I always enjoy watching even if he’s in utter dreck, and who even in this rubbish somehow manages to retain his dignity and gravitas, though it’s obvious he’s getting tired and even bored with Bryan Mills. I actually felt kind of sorry for him, but he was the one who publically said he would be not starring in a third Taken film, and then changed his mind, agreeing to do Taken 3 if nobody was actually taken [which makes the film’s title rather stupid, doesn’t it?]. A couple of days ago he said that a fourth film could be possible, something that I hope to God doesn’t happen, or at least until they can find a decent director and Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen can be persuaded to take a break from dashing out their increasingly tired scripts and give someone else a go at one of these.
How on earth has it come to this? Pierre Morel’s Taken, the film largely responsible for giving Neeson’s career a second wind, remains a terrific action thriller. It didn’t at all require a sequel, but the film’s huge and [to many] surprising popularity made one happen anyway. Unfortunately they decided that a lower rating was necessary, diluting much of the tough edge of the original, and gave the job of directing to Olivier Megaton, a man who will never use one shot when twenty will do and doesn’t want the viewer to properly see the action in his films. The result was a mediocre mess [in fact Morel’s ridiculous and ridiculously fun From Paris With Love, which sadly flopped, more deserves to be regarded as the follow-up to Taken], though I gave it the benefit of my doubt when I reviewed it. Some scenes were well executed, the mostly dumb script did have a few good ideas, Neeson was still very cool, and the thing was, for some of the time anyway, fairly entertaining. It also played considerably better in its uncensored DVD version, allowing some moments to actually now make sense, and…well….this shakycam/ rapid editing marlarky is a bit more bearable when not watching it on a big cinema screen when one gets sore eyes, a sore head and even feel sick. But Taken 3, a truly wretched continuation of a franchise that really is now going down the toilet, is shoddy throughout and not even that much fun in a ‘so bad it’s good’ way.
It’s even rubbish during its opening titles, where the typical panoramic aerial city shots are replaced by jerkily moving every couple of seconds from one Los Angeles skyscraper to another in a sequence that really is disorientating in the wrong way. Still, you can’t say the film gives you a false impression of what it’s going to be like, and it’s not just during the action scenes. Even the slower, more intimate family scenes feature so many high-angle shots, shots that don’t match or cut together properly, and what seem like sudden inserts, that these moments are rarely given a chance to land. Some scenes, and even some scene transitions, consist almost entirely of close-ups, giving the proceedings a horribly claustrophobic feel and making the film look cheap and like an old TV movie. Of course all this is as much the fault of cinematographer Eric Kress and editors Audrey Simonaud and Nicolas Trembasiewicz as it is Olivier Megaton, these all being people who need to go back to film school and learn their craft. In any case, all this makes it hard to get ‘into’ Taken 3, though it’s not helped by poor writing and even acting, with the cast often seeming to be giving very weak line readings like they couldn’t be bothered and Megaton couldn’t be arsed to do any retakes. The scene where Lenore tries to seduce her ex-husband is clumsily done and having Kim pregnant doesn’t even really have any bearing on things except to show that Bryan Mills’ daughter has grown up rather too quickly for him.
Of course this is a Taken movie, so after all this soapy stuff we get into a considerable amount of action. Mills is framed for his wife’s murder in a variation on The Fugitive, and it’s nice that we get a somewhat different kind of story to the first two Taken films. There are a couple of decent twists in the tale [though one doesn’t largely make sense], but we never really feel that Mills is in danger. This is partly because he’s no desperate everyman like Dr. Richard Kimble. He’s able to hack into security cameras, download GPS information from stolen cars, have access to world-class weaponry as well as the support of his super-spy friends. He’s also become a superhero, seemingly able to teleport and escape from death traps without a scratch. In one scene, he’s in a car going down a lift shaft that explodes and we don’t even see how he escapes! No, we just lazily cut to the next scene and Mills walking around fine without a cut on him. Mills is even able to dodge the bullets of an automatic weapon firing at him from only three feet away. One can make allowances for this kind of stupidity if the film is question is fun, but, largely due to the way it’s directed, shot and edited, Taken 3 is often an ordeal to watch and makes it really sad that clueless idiots like Megaton are getting work and somebody like John McTiernan is having trouble finding a gig. I mean how many times do we need to get a bird’s eye view of stuff happening? I like these kinds of shots, but there are so many of them in Taken 3 is just gets tedious. This man quite frankly just doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Of course all the chasing and fighting is chopped up so you can barely make it out. When Mills jumps over a fence, I counted seven edits. A freeway chase might just be the most incoherently shot action scene ever. You can just about make out a lorry container [of course the CGI is lame too] breaking loose and crushing loads of cars, but it makes no sense. Bryan basically kills loads of people in cars in this scene [okay we don’t see the deaths, but there’s no way many of them would have survived], poor innocent folk who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and yet this is our hero in a film which otherwise has toned down the violence even more than the previous episode. Taken 3 was cut down to get a ‘PG’13’ rating in the US and has been cut further to get a ’12A’ in the UK. It’s painfully obvious that there are shots missing and alternate takes. There’s even a scene where a guy has blood on him in the background but when we get a close-up the blood has been digitally painted out, but then this is a film where a man has blood on his right front tooth sometimes, and sometimes not, in one brief scene. You would have thought someone would have noticed or cared, considering the close-ups, but obviously not.
Meanwhile the performers mostly look bored, especially Forest Whitaker as Inspector Franck Dotzler, the cop doggedly on Mills’ trail [he eats doughnuts, carries a chess piece around with him and constantly plays with an elastic band] who really does look like he wants to be somewhere else. The good? There are three nice variations on Mills’ iconic “I will find you and I will kill you” line from the first film, as I’ve said before Neeson is still, just about, good value, the story is okay in parts and….well….I suppose that the uncut version, which I’m sure we’ll soon get to see, may make the picture slightly better, but only slightly. Taken 3 really is a poor excuse for an action movie [in fact it’s not a very good excuse for a movie full-stop] and showcases simply horrid filmmaking of a kind that is disturbingly prevalent these days but is rarely as bad as this. It’s already one of the worst films of the year, and the year’s just started!