DIR: Olivier Megaton • WRI: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen • PRO: Luc Besson • DOP: Eric Kress • Ed: Audrey Simonaud, Nicolas Trembasiewicz • Cast: Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Dougray Scott, Sam Spruell, Leland Orser
The third and allegedly final instalment of the Luc Besson-masterminded Taken series eschews the European settings of its predecessors for Californian locations, but in all other respects feels painfully rote. Sharing with prior instalments an inexplicable fascination for the family dynamics of rugged hero Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) and his kin, Taken 3 tarries with sub-TV soap opera for close to half an hour before finally wheezing into action.
In narrative terms, the film replaces the straightforward seek-and-destroy storylines of its predecessors with a convoluted “wrong man” plot lifted straight from The Fugitive (1993). On this occasion, the Tommy Lee Jones part is taken by Forest Whitaker, turning in another dreadful performance that must surely put him neck-and-neck with Renée Zellwegger for the bleakest post-Oscar career. Meanwhile, the “surprise” villain will surprise nobody, although his identity will not be revealed here.
It’s not a spoiler, however, to confirm that this mystery villain is a man, because as per usual, the only women on screen are Neeson’s daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen). Janssen, typecast as a frosty shrew in the first Taken film, seems ill-at-ease with her now-mellowed character, and one can’t help but search her frozen features for a flicker of relief when she exits the action feet-first early on. The Taken films have always had an Oedipal streak a mile wide, and in that respect the latest instalment does not disappoint – giving Neeson and Grace a handful of excruciating father-daughter scenes, including one in a toilet cubicle that concludes with Kim creating a diversion for her escaping father by pretending to urinate. Grace is a likable genre performer, but at 31 she seems uncomfortable playing a college student who uses her mother’s garments as security blankets.
Age, of course, is but a number in a Taken film, and those wondering how Neeson’s action hero is holding up at 62 will be pleased to know that he still does youthful things like jumping over police cars and listening to The XX. Neeson has always walked a fine line between the stoic and the stolid, and part of the limited appeal of the Taken series has been the oddness of seeing him in the kind of role Arnold Schwarzenegger might have passed on in 1988. Alas, oddness – as well as action – is in short supply here. A fight scene in which an antagonist brandishes a machine gun while wearing only a bathrobe and his underpants calls to mind the lunatic quality of Besson’s own films, but it’s an all-too-brief flash of conscious absurdity. Elsewhere, the film feels perilously low on ideas – climaxing with an airport set-piece that seems laughably puny compared to a similar scene in Casino Royale (2006). Neeson, and most of the rest of the cast, look like they’d rather be punching the clock.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Taken 3 is released 9th January 2015.