Have we found a name for this genre yet, this revival of movies where aging badasses with very particular sets of skills go on kill-fests to protect their loved ones? “Dadsploitation”? “Father Kills Best”? I think I like my friend Matt Prigge’s description: “Peppy Fogey Fighting Romp.” Anyway, 2008’s Taken, with Liam Neeson as an ex-CIA black-ops guy trying to save his daughter from Albanian sex traffickers, could be said to have started it (or restarted it). But Taken 3 is bad enough that it may just end it.
When we catch up to him this time, Neeson’s Bryan Mills is happily buying a giant stuffed panda for his daughter Kim’s (Maggie Grace) birthday; he still thinks of her as a child, even though she’s now living with her boyfriend and secretly freaking out over a pregnancy test. Meanwhile, Mills still has feelings for his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen, who was given a bit more to do in Taken 2), whose marriage to sweaty, wealthy businessman Stuart (Dougray Scott) may be falling apart. Could Bryan and Lenore wind up rekindling their romance? Well, we’ll never know, because Lenore soon winds up dead in his bed, and our hero is framed for the murder. (I’m not giving anything away that’s not in the trailer.)
And there’s your first problem. What’s made the Taken films sorta-kinda-maybe work in the past has been the way Mills’s over-the-top killing sprees have been driven by his tender, obsessive concern for his family; those are the kinds of broad juxtapositions that writer/producer Luc Besson specializes in. Taken 3, unfortunately, feeds less off Mills’s protectiveness — his distinguishing character trait — and more off a standard revenge-story setup, crossed with a wan, pseudo-Hitchcockian accused-man-tries-to-find-the-real-killers tale.
That’s a very different thing, and it actually calls for a different set of storytelling and filmmaking skills — none of which appear to be in evidence here. There’s little urgency to the wrong-man plot, since the film doesn’t know what to do with the people chasing Mills. The police inspector who leads the manhunt, Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker), seems uncertain about the man’s guilt from the get-go. Or rather, the film seems uncertain about Dotzler’s uncertainty: One minute, he’s determined that Mills is a menace; the next minute, he’s not all that concerned about catching him. When the two men face off briefly at one point and Mills protests his innocence, Dotzler responds with some blather about how that’s for the courts to decide. The scene may even be a nod to Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford’s standoff in The Fugitive, where Jones’s “I don’t care” to Ford’s claims of innocence was a ruthlessly existential statement. But here, the police have never felt like a threat, and Dotzler has never felt like a character, so the moment is pointless.
Anyway, the concept is lame, and the execution is lame, too. The more the film advances, the less we care about the plot — or anything that happens to anybody, really. It doesn’t help that the best character in these movies, Janssen’s Lenore, is already gone. Whitaker does his best with the little he’s given, but much of the supporting cast appears to have graduated from the never-stop-nodding school of acting. Neeson seems tired, maybe because he himself doesn’t even have that much to do, character-wise. Mills doesn’t even get to employ his particular set of skills all that much this time around, except for one ridiculous scene where he gives his daughter a particular kind of nausea with a particular yogurt drink so that she’ll need to use a particular ladies’ room at a particularly opportune moment. (No, really.)
Other than that, it’s a lot of chasing, which could have been exciting, except Taken 3 is mostly a waste as an action movie, too. Director Olivier Megaton’s rapid-fire cutting is meant to bring some kinetic energy to the proceedings, but this time around, it comes across less as stylized frenzy and more as desperation. When you need ten shots just to show Liam Neeson clearing a fence, the overall effect isn’t, “Wow, that’s exciting,” but rather, “Wow, Liam Neeson must be getting really old.” Alas, there are many fences — both literal and figurative ones — that must be cleared in Taken 3, each one less impressive than the last.