Taken 3: Film review

Ah, yes, another chapter of ‘Eric reviews movies that have been out for a month.’ But, come on, it’s a Taken movie. Must-see stuff, but maybe not exactly opening weekend. But I finally saw it, and oh my gosh. Wow. I mean, seriously.

I love the Taken movies, as I love all things Luc Besson, but I let’s face it, cinematic masterpieces, they’re not. Liam Neeson is clearly having a ball in his new role as ‘elderly action hero,’ and if what you want from movies is lots of ‘splosions, lots of hand to hand combat action sequences, lots of scenes where bad guys fire hundreds of rounds from automatic weapons at Our Hero and somehow miss every time (in fact, where horrible bad guy marksmanship seems central to Our Hero’s plan, like something he’s planning on), lots of spectacular car crashes, all leavened with Family Values sentimentality, well then, the Taken movies are for you. They’re red meat for red staters. Or in that carefully hidden lizard brain red stater at the heart of most guys.

Of course, if you want the plot to make a lick of sense, then you might want to try something, you know, good. Narrative incoherence is part of the strategy. Or rather, they’re incoherent in any kind of real-world sense. I mean, Taken 1 requires that we believe that hundreds of teenaged upper-middle class American girls, vacationing in France, could just go missing, sold as sex slaves, with no reaction whatsoever from the US Embassy, or State Department, or Homeland Security, or CIA, FBI, ATF, Interpol, the girls’ parents (Liam Neeson excepted), or from CNN, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, MSNBC, Politico, Vox. Facebook. Twitter . . . Nope. Nada from anyone. Except for Liam Neeson, on a one man killing spree of villainous Albanians. In France. Actually, in Paris. With also no reaction from the French police, except for covering it all up, because they’re in the pocket of Albanians. I’m totally not kidding, I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed myself more at a movie. Funniest thing ever.

Of course, Taken 2 upped the stakes. Moved it to Istanbul (not Constantinople). More Albanians, only this time we’re supposed to believe that Liam Neeson’s character’s daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace) could just drop hand grenades off the tops of buildings, in Istanbul, blowing up peoples’ cars and stuff, with no reaction from Turkish police. Wow. Just, wow.

But, so, okay, Taken 3. (Besson didn’t direct this one BTW; he wrote and produced it, but it was directed by his long-time 2nd unit director, Olivier Megaton). So, Liam plays, as always, former Special Forces ace Bryan Mills. His ex-wife, Lenore, is married to rich douche-bag, Stuart St. John (Dougray Scott). Daughter Kim is in college, living with her boyfriend, and pregnant. Lenore is unhappy in her marriage, and kinda wants to get back together with Liam/Bryan, but he’s too noble to take her up on it; suggests she sort out her relationship with Stuart first. So, Liam/Bryan gets a text; Lenore wants to meet to talk over bagels, so Liam/Bryan gets the bagels, dashes home, sees her car parked there, goes in, and she’s dead. Murdered. He sees knife, picks it up, then cops pour in. So there he is, caught red-handed. Framed.

Okay, it turns out that what happens next is the turning point for the entire movie. Liam/Bryan could just get arrested, explain everything, trust in the cops to get it right. Main cop is Forest Whitaker, who is always a smart guy in these things, so that wouldn’t seem like a bad strategy. But Bryan/Liam decides to beat up all these cops instead and make his escape. Most of the rest of the movie is this big chase scene, with loads of cops chasing Liam/Bryan around, while he hacks into the police computer and figures out various clues as to who-dun-it (murdered Lenore and framed him for it). And Forest Whitaker basically follows him around, always a few minutes late. Eventually, it turns out that Stuart was behind the whole thing, trying to put together some money he can use to pay off the Russian mob. (The main Russki mobster, BTW, was played by the brilliant character actor Sam Spruell, also the main baddie in Snow White and the Huntsman. Skinny blonde guy? Anyway, always glad to see his work.)

So, anyway, finally, Bryan/Liam breaks into the Russian mob stronghold, kills a couple of dozen guards, gets shot at, hundreds of rounds worth, by various automatic weapons, never gets hit, and uncovers nasty Stuart’s whole plot.And the Russian bad guy dies. So Stuart takes Kim with him, and races off, to his private jet.

Leading to this: Liam/Bryan is driving the Porsche he took from the main Russian guy. He gets to Santa Monica airport just as Stuart’s jet is taking off. Now, remember, Liam/Bryan is mostly interested in protecting Kim. That’s all he cares about; protecting his daughter. The police, at that point, know Stuart’s the bad guy. Jets have to land somewhere, and wherever that one lands, Stuart will be arrested. So, knowing Kim’s in the jet, Liam/Bryan decides the best thing to do is to ram the jet with the Porsche. ‘Cause there’s just no way that could go wrong, plane crashes being notoriously safe for passengers.

Of course it works. It’s a movie, stupid crap like that always works in movies. But then comes the very next scene, a final conversation between Liam/Bryan and Main Cop/Forest Whitaker. And the cop admits that he’s known the whole time that Bryan’s innocent.

Which made me realize something crucial. What if, when he first found his wife dead, Liam/Bryan had just let himself be arrested. The cops, we learn, were suspicious of the crime scene. They were planning to investigate the murder. They’re always five minutes behind Liam/Bryan as he puts the clues together and works it out. They’re smart cops. If Liam/Bryan had just let them arrest him, the result would have been exactly the same. Minus all the dead people.

‘Cause there’s also this: all those chase scenes, with cops chasing Liam/Bryan around, they’re all massively costly. We see dozens of cars destroyed, at high speeds, on LA freeways. There’s no way someone didn’t die, though in fact it appears that no one did, in the movie. Lots of cops get hurt, beat up, concussed, kidney punched. But Forest and Liam have this nice chuckle together and go, ‘it’s all good, we’re fine.’ What? Seriously?

Here’s what I think: in real life, people who cause dozens of high speed traffic accidents for no purpose whatsoever generally are taken to account for it. People who beat up dozens of police officers aren’t allowed to go free.

Now, I’m not saying that it was irresponsible or immoral for Besson/Megaton to make a movie in which those specific crimes aren’t punished. I do think it makes for bad film making. I think it’s specifically bad film making when, in order to enjoy the happy ending, we have to forget everything that happened earlier in the movie.

I’ll grant you that the standard isn’t high. But Taken 3 is far and away the stupidest movie in that particular franchise. This one actually manages to be stupid enough to not be enjoyable. That wasn’t true of the last two, but it is true of this one. It took awhile, but I’ve finally been stupided out by a Luc Besson film.

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