Neeson’s journey to B-action flick dark side complete

Just write “Taken 3.” “3” may be lite-speak for “E,” but that doesn’t mean it looks good. As a matter of fact, stylizing the title is never good. Photo courtesy 20th Century Fox.

The “It ends here” tagline plays heavily in the advertising, but there’s nothing material preventing a Taken 4.

In his third go ’round the super-retired-spy block, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is now the target of a massive LAPD manhunt after his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) is murdered in his bed. Mills uncovers a vast criminal conspiracy aimed square at him, and, in Taken tradition, karate chops the whole damn thing in the neck.

Tak3n isn’t worth taking seriously — it’s bad, not for a particular reason as much as it’s just low-grade.

That said, the pacing really sticks out. The refreshing part of the first Taken was how immediately Mills was killing people. Here, it takes him 20 minutes to get started, and even then he’s in non-lethal mode running from cops until the hour-45 mark. Before and in between are stiff, wooden dialogue sequences and some… special, let’s call them, filler shots.

Some highlights:

Before her death, Loraine St. John’s (Janssen) husband, Stuart (Dougray Scott) visits Mills to tell him to keep his grubby hands off Loraine. Before actually confronting the Irish embodiment of death itself, Stuart St. John waits politely in the front while Mills finishes making coffee. The audience must wait politely with him, as the movie then gives step-by-step video instructions on how Mills makes coffee.

At St. John’s funeral, the pastor (Cornelius Peter) recites the Psalm of David, but he keeps adding things. Like, instead of just reciting, “Though I walk through the darkest valley…” he says, “The Bible is constantly telling us that God is with us. That even though we walk through the darkest valley…” But he recites the entire psalm like that, introducing each line saying the Bible constantly says that or some other way. It’s really bizarre.

At several points, Mills puts in calls to Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker), the head inspector on the case, and then disposes of the phone in a suitably cool way. At one point, he tosses the used phone into the luggage compartment of a commercial bus. The film then makes a point of it with a few closeups of the luggage compartment closing and of the bus driving away.

Late in the film, Mills is rammed off a cliff in a car chase, and his car explodes at the bottom of the fall. Obviously, cars aren’t really replaceable in a film’s budget, so they only had one chance at the take, so they shot it from several angles. Pretty standard for an expensive shot like that. But then they put all of the shots into the movie. That car explodes, like, eight or nine times. It’s not even a nice car or a particularly big explosion, there’s just a million shots of it.

Tak3n was advertised on the strength of Taken’s brand, just like Taken 2, The Grey, Unknown, and pretty much every other Liam Neeson movie since 2010, but it aborts several of the series’ hallmarks. The trailer did a great play on the first movie’s trailer, which is the only real reason why the series became so iconic, but Dotzler flubs the line. The exchange didn’t make it into the actual movie. Instead of saying “taken” instead of “kidnapped,” Mills describes St. John as being “snatched” in this movie.

Another problem is that Dotzler is much more sympathetic that Mills. In the first Taken, Mills has no realistic legal help against a thriving sex slave ring and only has about four days before he’ll likely never see his daughter again. In this movie, he has a bunch of legal help — Dotzler is wise to the setup and only wants Mills for questioning. Mills’ motivation for most of the action isn’t really justified.

Maybe more or different things will jump out to another viewer, but really it’s just pulp. It’s not meant to be anything more than a steady drip of actiony-explodey stuff, and if that’s all a viewer wants to see then they’ll be satisfied. But a ton of last year’s prestige movies are just now hitting wide release, so if that is all you want, no points for taste.

Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Je Suis Charlie. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter when I can be bothered to make one, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

Neeson’s acting skills aren’t totally gone — he can still pull off goofy like nobody’s business.

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