All you need to know about Taken 3 is that Liam Neeson survives an explosive car crash — twice. Director Olivier Megaton even rewinds the second blast to show us how his hero escaped. It still doesn’t make sense. But who cares.
The Taken franchise is rooted in implausibilities, specifically that a 62-year-old Oscar winner is the baddest mofo on earth. Say what you will about the silliness of the series, but Neeson has always played his ex-military man very seriously. His Bryan Mills is living a drama — it just plays like a comedy. And Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen’s script has fun with that contradiction. They may have written an aborted breakfast scene into the film just because Neeson sounds hilarious when he says “bagel.”
Taken 3 isn’t brilliant, but it’s a hell of a lot of dumb, head-smacking fun. In an early scene, Mills arrives at the doorstep of his hapless daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) with a giant stuffed panda — the perfect gift from a dear old dad who thinks his baby is still eleven. He’s in for a shock: Kim is pregnant. If only Megaton had the courage to go sci-fi, with Mills shrinking himself to a cell and slashing her boyfriend’s sperm. But women in Taken 3‘s world serve one purpose: to be dragged away at gunpoint. Some tattooed Russians promptly offer to oblige.
Neeson is in top fighting form, not that you can appreciate his abs in the battle scenes, as the camera plants itself so close to the action that you can’t tell where anyone is and whose tibia they’re breaking. In what should have been a standout car chase, with Neeson braking uselessly before an eighteen-wheeler, Megaton only frames the truck two wheels at a time. With all the dangers as chopped up and unassuming as a house salad, the big set pieces are merely a frenetic yawn.
And thanks to the franchise’s bizarre commitment to a PG-13 rating, even death is dull. After a character opts for a head-shot suicide, the camera pans down to a fallen corpse that’s as bloodless as a radish. At this point, it’s almost an art-house joke on the cravenness of the MPAA ratings board.
At least Los Angeles, Mills’s home and the setting of our struggle, looks great. The sun is golden and the city is well used from Malibu to downtown. As a bonus, we finally get to pal around with Mills’s old military buddies, still ribbing him about maybe rekindling things with his wife (Famke Janssen) on the golf course, and ready to spring into action when he needs them. Which is, of course, soon. And which is, of course, bound to happen again and again. As Mills sighs to Kim, “I don’t know how many times I can say sorry.” As long as there are audiences willing to eavesdrop on his apologies — and enjoy his ass-kicking.