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There’s something to be said about a surprisingly (relatively) successful idea for a flick. There’s also something to be said about an idea feeling as if it has been stretched thin. The original Taken and its sequels could occupy both sides of the spectrum, depending on who you are.
Off the bat, you are hit with the question of how could this be different than the first two installments of a series called Taken, in which people, including our hero are, well, taken? Who else close to Bryan Mills (Neeson) could be kidnapped this time? If you caught the trailers, which hit last year, you might have been intrigued, like myself. You might have thought, ‘this actually might be good.’ Well, I can tell you that this film isn’t good. I can also tell you that this film isn’t bad. Rather, its more in the ‘okay’ realm. Passable as a repackaged, generic action film that manages to entertain.
Let us not kid ourselves here. The main reason anyone would want to get on this ride is to see Liam Neeson (or Liam Neesons) jack some dudes up. It isn’t a surprise to tell you that indeed he does just that. However, what sets this film apart from its predecessors is the fact that instead of chasing the bad guys, this time Mills is being chased by the good guys who suspect him of a murder he didn’t commit, which opens the door for a fresh way to approach the series’ final entry. Bryan now has to unravel the mystery of who his behind the plot to frame him, the reasons why, and make sure his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is protected.
Those disappointed by the lack of mindless action in last year’s A Walk Among The Tombstones will be happy to see that this is not the case here as Neeson assumes the role that transformed his career. Once again, Mills is invincible, surviving everything from car crashes to explosions to gunfire. He is also able to soundly put down a number of guys in hand-to-hand combat. Again, all things you expect to see if you’re coming to a Taken movie.
The story while (mostly) different from its predecessors, is littered with several plot issues, which I will not divulge here, should you decide to watch this movie. They were small individually, but when taken as a whole, they do get in the way of the logic and enjoyment of the film. It works much better when you don’t over-think it. At least there is a story that is just interesting enough that you want to see how it all ends. That said, it manages at times to play out like a kid with a wild imagination threw in ideas of how to get Bryan Mills out of certain situations. Luc Besson and his co-writer Robert Mark Kamen said to this kid, “Okay, Bryan is trapped in this room and he’s surrounded by cops who want to throw him in jail. How do we get him out?” The kid’s response is something like, “He took a pen from his pocket and drew a doorway into the ground!” The grown-ups respond with, “great idea! Let’s put that in!”
One does get the sense though, that Besson and Kamen approached this one from a more organic standpoint, which is to say that they looked at what was already established with the first two installments in terms of characters and did not bring in too many new elements like another group of Albanians and/or Russians or any other group for Mills to go after because that would essentially be a rehash of what came before. Instead, this one ends up being a more homegrown situation both in terms of characters and in terms of location, taking place in the Los Angeles area.
The actors bring some new energy to the franchise particularly Dougray Scott taking over for Xander Berkeley from the original, as Stuart St. John and Forest Whitaker as Inspector Frank Dotzler who is probably the best new addition here, which isn’t saying a whole lot as his talent is nearly wasted in this cardboard cutout role that really, anyone could have played. The script only gives him so much room. Whitaker does manage to bring his own style to the role along with interesting character quirks like playing with rubber bands or carrying a knight chess piece everywhere.
The action in this film once it gets rolling, is slick and very fast. The editing of many of the sequences is sharp, but almost too frenetic, which took away from the experience. The cuts were such that you could barely make out what was happening and in which direction things were going. The style is fine for something like a foot chase, but it begins to get difficult to follow for a car chase or a shoot-out.
I’ll admit I took great joy in watching The Neeson knock some heads, which surprisingly, doesn’t happen as much as you would expect as he spends much of his time running and piecing together the puzzle. You may not be as smitten with this film as the original, which is probably still the best, but this one could be a lot worse than it is.