Taken3coverGrade: B-
Entire family: No
2014, 109 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for brief strong action
20th Century Fox
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital HD
Bonus features: C-
Trailer/Amazon link

In Taken 3, nobody’s really “taken” until the third act, but I guess it was time for the franchise to shake it up a bit.

The original Taken (2008) featured Liam Neeson as a former CIA operative who used his skills to save a daughter kidnapped in France. Then, in Taken 2, a Patriot Games-style revenge theme drove the plot, with the father of the kidnapper from the first film “taking” both Bryan Mills (Neeson) and his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) while they’re in Istanbul. The third time around they’re in L.A., where Mills learns from his now-pregnant daughter (Maggie Grace) that his ex-wife is having marital problems. There’s some hint of their getting back together, but early in the first act he finds his ex- in his bed with her throat slit. When the cops show up, his survivalist instincts kick in again. He goes “down the rabbit hole” to hide and, like The Fugitive, try to clear his name.

Neeson makes a credible action hero, so much so that you have to wonder “what if” he had been given the Bond role back in 2006 when his name was bandied about as a possibility. As cast and filmmakers say in one of the bonus features, the film’s appeal comes from the core principle of a father wanting to protect his family, and Neeson does have an appealing “everyman” quality—despite also having superman survival skills that would have eliminated most ordinary men from the challenge 30 seconds into the film. At times the action and close-call escapes border on the cartoonish because they’re so outlandish, but Luc Besson and his co-writers seem to understand that audiences expect him to survive anything. At some point, they don’t even bother to explain how he managed them, they start to feel that routine.

Taken 3 offers a plot that also feels familiar, and unfortunately relies on the cheap trick of printing sequences with some frames removed and slightly blurring them—a shortcut for action films that we first saw in Gladiator. It produces the kind of strobe effect that can drive some people crazy and basically excuses the filmmakers from having to mount expensive and highly choreographed fight scenes.

That said, Taken 3 is still a credible action film that’s entertaining despite its familiarity, largely due to Neeson’s talents and appeal. But Forest Whitaker is also engaging as the LAPD detective in charge of the investigation, making the best out of a two-dimensional role, and Dougray Scott and Sam Spruell spark enough hatred as the film’s bad guys. Neither sequel can touch the original, but fans of the franchise won’t care.    More