Take away the Paris, Marseilles and Istanbul settings of the earlier “Taken” films and you get that most generic of thrillers — the LA action picture.
Take away the last vestiges of Liam Neeson’s action hero early middle age and you get a shriveled, older man not-quite-shown making one improbable escape after another, because they now we’d never believe it.
Take away the ticking clock of a kidnapping plot line and you remove the urgency, turning Neeson’s ex-CIA agent into just another guy “with particular skills” out for revenge.
“Taken 3” takes all those vital ingredients out of the formula that gave Neeson a nice third act for his career and Luc “Transporter/The Professional” Besson another unlikely action franchise, full of shootouts punchouts and spinouts in the middle of epic car chases. “Generic” is the nicest thing one can say about it.
This time, mild-mannered, methodical retiree Bryan Mills (Neeson) is framed for the murder of his still-flirtatious ex-wife (Famke Janssen). The cops are sure he did it, so he beats a few up, makes his first wildly unlikely getaway and sets out “to find the real killer.”
Daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is the one character who stops to actually mourn Mom’s death. Maybe it’s hormonal. The perpetual college student has just learned she’s pregnant, and she won’t tell dad.
Forest Whitaker is the twitchy detective always one or one and a half steps behind Mills, snapping rubber bands, playing with a knight from a chess set, tics borrowed from a dozen earlier pictures to try and distract us from the limp plot and lame dialogue.
Mills still has those retired comrades in arms who can help him “go down the rabbit hole,” supplying him with info, weapons and safe houses.
And he still has those “particular skills” which he turns loose on generic Russian mobsters whom he is sure slit his wife’s throat.
Mills is so clever, he has the cops utterly outfoxed. But he can’t guess where this story is leading as early as the audience does — which is almost instantly. Yet Neeson, collecting a check here, makes the most of his one good dialogue exchange, lines which could serve as a shorter review of “Taken 3.”
“This isn’t going to end well for you,” one cop warns him as Mills gets the drop on him.
Neeson fixes him with a skeletal glare.
“Don’t be such a PESSIMIST.”
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action and for brief strong language
Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Forest Whitaker, Famke Janssen
Credits: Directed by Olivier Megaton, script by Luc Besson and .Robert Mark Kamen. A 20th Century Fox release.
Running time: 1:48