‘Taken 3’ wheezes to a franchise finale

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Were you really expecting “Taken 3” to be anything other than a hackneyed recycling of its predecessors? At least the original “Taken” and “Taken 2” had the benefit of foreign settings and international intrigue.

The 2008 film, “Taken,” exploited prevailing Islamophobia. It conjured up Muslim kidnappers from Albania, who grabbed  women off the streets of European cities. These malefactors then turned them into sex slaves for oil-rich sheiks in the Middle East. Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) was an erstwhile C.I.A. black ops undercover agent.  He learned that his estranged 17-year old daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), has been snatched at random while visiting Paris. Mills deployed his considerable skill set, honed as a former spook, to advantage.

The hunky, 6’4” Neeson had frequently been offered roles as a protagonist in action flicks. However, he had persistently rejected these overtures. Upon reading the screenplay for “Taken,” he had assumed that the low budget B-movie would be a bomb. However, the prospect of filming on location in Paris for four months proved irresistible to the esteemed thespian. “Taken” became a surprise hit, grossing $227 million in global box office. Neeson, then already in his fifties, occupied a newly-minted niche as an action star.

In 2012’s “Taken 2,” Mills invited Kim and Lenore (Famke Janssen), to visit him in the exotic port of Istanbul. The film introduced the character of Murad Krasniqi (the always welcome Croatian character actor, Rade Sherbedgia). He played the vengeful father of one of the kidnappers, who Mills had killed in the prior film. This time it was Lenore’s turn to get kidnapped by Muslims and saved by Mills.

Now that the plot trajectory from the prior films was resolved, producer/screenwriter, Luc Besson and fellow writer, Robert Mark Kamen, struggle for a new angle. Unfortunately, Mills didn’t have any other relatives available to be kidnapped. The film does include some two-dimensional Ruskie villains. However, the entire film takes place within the familiar confines of Los Angeles.  “Taken 3” is indistinguishable from an episode of a domestic television series bloated to an interminable length.

In an early scene, Lenore is visiting her ex-spouse  at the latter’s bachelor pad. She is bemoaning the shaky status of her marriage to Stuart St. John (Dougray Scott, replaces Xander Berkeley, who had played Lenore’s husband in the first film). He’s a filthy rich businessman, who provides no emotional sustenance to his wife.

It becomes app

This photo released by 20th Century Fox shows Liam Neeson, left, as Bryan Mills, and Maggie Grace, as Kim, in a scene from the film, "Taken 3." (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Daniel McFadden)

This photo released by 20th Century Fox shows Liam Neeson, left, as Bryan Mills, and Maggie Grace, as Kim, in a scene from the film, “Taken 3.” (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Daniel McFadden)

arent that Lenore has revived her carnal yearnings for Mills. After some kissing, Mills abruptly announces that he doesn’t want to continue further until Lenore has wrapped up her relationship with her husband. Couldn’t he have made this noble decision before making out passionately? In any event, Mills offers Lenore a key to his apartment, just in case she needs a refuge from her marital discord.

The following day, Mills returns home to find Lenore in his bed with her throat slashed. Will Mills turn himself into the authorities and rebut any suspicions that he was culpable for his wife’s murder? What is the forensic evidence against him? She happened to be killed in his apartment. Does that make him guilty?

Instead, our intrepid hero beats up the policemen who come to the crime scene. He then eludes a cadre of back-up policemen by escaping though the sewer system.

Enter L.A.P.D. Inspector Franck Dotzler (Forest Whittaker). He discovers that Mills had been a member of U.S. special forces with a shadowy background thereafter. The police honcho orders a manhunt to track down Mills. Meanwhile, he remains preoccupied munching on some warm bagels found at the crime scene. Does it occur to him that they might be key evidence? In another scene, one of Dotzler’s detectives snatches a donut off the desk of a parking attendant.  This carbo loading technique, practiced by Dotzler and his men, apparently represents sophisticated sleuthing worthy of Hercule Poirot himself.

Eventually, Mills turns himself in. However, it turns out to be a strategic ploy. Although Mills is in the back of a police cruiser handcuffed, he overcomes the driver and his partner. Mills boots the officers from their car, then uses the vehicle’s laptop to access the L.A.P.D. computer network.

Oleg Malankov (Sam Spruell), a brutish, perpetually glowering Russian crime lord, looms in the background. Malankov is a veteran of the Afghanistan War, who had been a member of the Russian Spetsnaz. What is the connection of his criminal cartel to Lenore’s murder? He might have made a worthy adversary to Mills. Unfortunately, his direct interaction with Mills is limited to a single scene.

There are plenty of whirring bullets  in “Taken 3.” The rapidly escalating body count will satisfy even the most bloodthirsty of movie fans. However, what is missing here is any sort of compelling storyline , engaging narrative trajectory, or decent denouement. Dialogue is also inane. At one juncture, Mills slumps over and exclaims, ““I have low blood sugar because I haven’t eaten since yesterday.” Apparently, it never occurred to our hypercompetent hero that battling baddies burns up the calories.

Olivier Megaton helmed prior Besson-Kamen collaborations, “Taken 2” and “Transporter 3.” Here, once again, he contributes no directorial flourishes. Indeed, even the car crashes and hand to hand combat, staples of this genre, are ineptly staged.

At long last, “Taken 3” has wheezed to an overdue franchise finale.

“Taken 3”  *1/2 PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and for brief strong language) 109 minutes

A screen capture from the trailer to the movie "Taken 3" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUJZjUaNzgw

A screen capture from the trailer to the movie “Taken 3” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUJZjUaNzgw

Film critic Nathan Lerner sees more than 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.


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