When we’re first reunited with our favorite ex-government spook/homicidal savant Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), he’s once again buying a birthday present for his daughter Kim. But instead of OCDing a karaoke machine manual, this time he’s getting her an enormous teddy bear, because she’s finally in college (at the tender age of 31). When the world’s greatest goddamn dad ever arrives at her doorstep bearing the bear, she’s deservedly skittish. Cinema’s 100,000th pee-stick panic scene has just revealed that she’s pregnant, and it’s still three days until her birthday. Why is the clinically punctual papa giving her a present now?
Because he wants to “shake things up” and “be less predictable.”
Tak3n is painfully predictable, and the only thing that gets shaken up is the camera, and perhaps your lunch. Anybody surprised by the “surprise” twist it hinges upon should have their reproductive organs revoked. Sure, it’s fine fodder for afternoon cable viewing when you’re too lazy to change the channel, but for this guy (who walked two miles in a Chicago snowstorm to see it, and started pining for the outdoors by the third reel), it’s so mediocre that it makes me angry. I’d be happier it was just flat-out bad.
The original Taken never gets enough credit for being such an efficient asskicking machine. It’s an airtight 93 minutes that never wastes a second. The story is tight, the action is fast (not sloppy), that “particular set of skills” monologue still revs my engines, and it took full advantage of its PG-13 rating. It’s like a great first date who yanks you into a closet at a party, and you emerge flushed and tousled with lipstick stains all over your shit-eating grin.
Taken 2 was where that date went sour and turned into a dull relationship. It’s a near-beer rehash bungled by new director Oliver Megaton, who botched every fight scene with stupid closeups that obscured every kick and windpipe crushing, and made it worse with spastic cuts that make Peckinpah look like Jim Jarmusch. But at least there was a hint of urgency and it moved at a decent clip, clocking in at 92 minutes.
Tak3n is that awful point in a relationship where you’ve fallen out of love, but he or she keeps trying to win you back. And its efforts aren’t fully lazy, they’re just not enough to win you back. If you were chatting with friends who’ve been dying for you to break up with the franchise, the conversation would go like this:
Friends: “Just leave him already”
You: “I know, but he’s trying to be less predictable.”
Friends: “Did you figure out who the villain was five minutes in?”
You: “Yes, yes I did, but he kept bringing me these bouquets of red herrings.”
Friends: “Does he do anything new to rock your socks off in bed?”
You: “Well, he drove a car down an elevator shaft and waterboarded a guy. That was new, I guess.”
Friends: “But are you still taken with him?”
You: (shrugs, sighs) “It’s 112 minutes long now, and it’s not tight anymore. I feel nothing.”
The, ahem, story: Bryan’s ex-wife (whom he still loves and is this close to fully reuniting with) gets killed off in the first 10 minutes (Famke Jannsen, lucking out). He gets framed for it, and goes on the lam to find the killer. Detective Frank Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) is the Tommy Lee Jones cop on his tail whose gut tells him that Bryan is innocent, but has to pursue him and blah blah blah. Stepping in for the predecessors’ Albanian baddies, there are some new stock Russian scuzzies, the only interesting one being a goon who looks like bastard son of Sting and Michael Rooker. Bryan’s buddy-troupe of mercenary hackers are back to help out their ol’ bro, with Leland Orser’s Sam deserving his own movie. And the character of richie-rich Stuart St. John is a major player now. You might remember him as Famke’s new husband, the guy who bought Kim a horse and overshadowed Bryan’s karaoke machine. He wants to find his wife’s killer, too, and tries to assist Bry in his mission. In Taken, he was played by scruffy everyman Xander Berkeley. This time he’s played by Dougray Scott. Herrings smell.
The first film ran on inertia. The sequels run on the methane dispelled by the cow cashing. But it could have been fun if Megaton had a sense of tension and urgency, and could plant his damn camera still and let the choreography do the work during the action scenes. In theory, some moments stand out — the liquor store throwdown with its Woo-esque aisle-to-aisle gunplay; the elongated penthouse shoot-em-up — but it’s as bloodless as the choreography is stale. Making matters worse, there are endless car chases shot and chopped with the finesse of a epileptic cokehead handling a Go-Pro, complete with an insipid CGI freight trailer flopping across a freeway crushing cars…which stopped being exciting about 10 Transformers movies ago. And there’s a jittery fight scene inside a cop car that looks absolutely embarrassing after you’ve seen the car fight in The Raid 2.
Long story short: Tak3n is cold steakums for action fans that want fresh meat. Pierre Morel is simply a better action director than Oliver Megaton. Liam Nesson’s getting tired of this role, and it shows. It’s not entirely 3xcr3able, but it’s not 3citing either. As the ending to a franchise that once got me hot and bothered, this is an anti-climactic handjob.