Taken 3 (2015)     ★★

The poster for Tak3n proclaims “it ends here,” as if we’ve all been clamoring for a conclusion to the over-sixty Bryan Wills’ saga of single-handedly taking on entire terrorist organizations and police forces. Aside from the same three main characters appearing in each installment I was not aware of any continuing storyline. And truthfully, while Bryan Mills may not see the inside of any multiplexes in the future, the juggernaut that is the “Liam Neeson action figure with karate-chop motion” is far from over, evident by the countless vehicles the actor stars in each year, of which the Taken films alone, when it’s all said and done, will be responsible for three-quarters of a billion dollars in revenue worldwide. I can’t say that I understand it, and I have to accept it, but I don’t have to like it, and Taken 3, while being the best of the “trilogy,” is still lazily directed and acted January rubbish that exists solely to cash in on Neeson’s current status in the public eye.

Put any other actor in this film and it would probably tank right away. It could easily be done, considering no characters are actually “taken” in this film, like Mills’ daughter Kim (why do I get flashbacks to FOX’s 24 whenever Neeson says her name?) in the first picture, and his wife Lenore in the second. Taken 3‘s sole relation to the first two films is the cast, who are this time on American soil, where Mills gets framed for his wife’s murder and must go head to head against Russian (of course) terrorists and a brilliant, determined detective (aren’t they all?) played by Forest Whttaker, who flashes moments of brilliance whenever the script demands just as often as he is sidelined.

To call Taken 3 overdetermined would be most generous. For a while, up until and shortly after his wife’s murder, it is actually enjoyable to some degree, as Mills and the audience are given nothing to go on, and it’s fun to watch Neeson sleuth around collecting information. But the 100 minute clock is always ticking, and about an hour into the film the need to hit conventional structural landmarks takes over and the screenplay dumps a whole mess of information in Neeson’s lap so that it can get to the perfunctory scenes of violence, both hand-to-hand and machine gun oriented, all of which are confusingly directed by Luc Besson’s house director Olivier Megaton, who thinks that the sound design of crunching bone and smashing glass will make sense out of his myriad close-ups.

And why should Megaton spend any more time than is absolutely necessary creating this mess? Would an intelligently crafted film add anything to the bottom line of the third part of a “trilogy” that has been universally derided by critics? I doubt it. Taken 3 is ad-lib filmmaking at its worst, where it could be easily believable that a generic rough draft of some cheaply acquired screenplay about a wrongfully accused father had three of its characters renamed right before the time to roll camera. In that sense it reminds me of A Good Day To Die Hard, another easy-target anti-Russia (once again our goto bad guys) film that seemed to have its franchise characters grafted onto it. But Liam Neeson looks far less tired than Bruce Willis, and in the end, if there is any saving grace to the Taken films, it lies with watching the aging actor clean house. But that can only go so far, and it’s clear that Hollywood, and the makers of this series have no desire to add anything to their well-oiled cash cow.

The Verdict: Pan