Michael O’Sullivan (c) 2015, The Washington Post. One has certain expectations of a “Taken” movie — really, of almost any Liam Neeson action film, but especially this popular franchise, which, as advertised on the posters for “Taken 3,” “ends here.”
On the most basic level, this final installment meets the minimum requirements of the genre. Written by series creators Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen and directed by French action workhorse Olivier Megaton (“Taken 2”), the film dutifully cleaves to the contours of a well-established and viscerally satisfying formula, which dictates a brief introduction to the sleepily domestic life of retired CIA operative Bryan Mills (Neeson), followed by 75 minutes or so of frenetic action triggered by some attack on and/or abduction of a loved one.
Here it is not an act of kidnapping that sets our hero off, as in the first two films, but the murder of his ex-wife (Famke Janssen), for which Bryan has been framed. Technically, no one has been “taken” — except for perhaps the audience, on what it is hoped will be a thrill ride. As in “The Fugitive,” Bryan goes on the lam to clear his name and find the person or persons responsible for the murder, all the while staying one step ahead of Forest Whitaker, who plays the dogged detective charged with bringing him in — and while leaving a trail of dead bodies in his choppy wake.
It’s about as pulse-pounding as your favorite roller coaster would be on the third go-round, even if the action and chase sequences seem a bit more sloppily constructed than usual. Whitaker adds a fresh dynamic to the somewhat rote proceedings, and there are a couple of good opportunities for Bryan to get off his trademark tough talk. “This is going to end bad for you,” warns a cop who is trying to arrest Bryan (and who, apparently, hasn’t seen the first two films). “Don’t be such a pessimist,” Bryan shoots back.
So how does it end? Really, do you have to ask?
Rest assured that Bryan engages in plenty of what I like to call “gun-frogging,” which “Taken” fans have by now come to expect. What this means is that Bryan leaves home in the morning with a single loaded pistol, the contents of which he proceeds to empty into the first bad guy he hunts down, whose weapon he then picks up after discarding his own and moving on to the next victim. Lather, rinse, repeat, until Bryan eventually reaches the heavily guarded compound of the supervillain, having expended hundreds of someone else’s bullets (and the occasional ninjalike, disabling body blow) while sustaining only the odd flesh wound or two. Such an economical action hero, if a bit of a litterbug.
Also, Bryan engages in “enhanced interrogation” techniques at one point, a la Jack Bauer. Thank goodness Neeson brings an enormous reservoir of likability to the role. Otherwise that scene might be, you know, disturbing.
“Taken 3” is certainly not the best of the series. For my money, that would be the second film, in which Bryan and his wife are kidnapped, leaving their daughter (Maggie Grace) to perform some derring-do. The new film misses what seems like an obvious opportunity to exploit some of the skills that her character must have picked up as the driver of an escape vehicle through the crowded streets of Istanbul in “Taken 2.”
Oh well. Here, she sits in the passenger seat, just waiting for the whole thing to be over. There are moments in “Taken 3” when I kind of felt that way myself.
Two stars. Rated PG-13. Contains violence and some coarse language. 109 minutes.
Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.