TAKEN 3 // NO-HOLDS BARRED ACTION // I WATCHED IT TWICE

**** out of 4
A good action thriller rarely gives its hero a chance to catch his breath. The bottom seems to fall out from under Liam Neeson in the second “Taken” sequel with twists, thrills, and surprises galore. In “Taken 3”, the 62-year old Irish thespian makes monkeys out of some rather nasty apes. This improbable but exciting, PG-13-rated, crime thriller differs from its predecessors. Not only does it take place in Los Angeles rather than Europe, but also nobody abducts anybody. Instead, “Taken 3” is a wrongly-charged, innocent man, murder mystery about a husband accused of carving up his former wife.
The first sign an action franchise is endangered is when the producers either start pulling the plug on primary characters or replacing the actors. The Famke Janssen character Lenore St. John exits the action early in this fleet-footed thriller, and she ends up in the morgue with a slashed throat. Lenore won’t make an encore unless “Transporter” writer & producer Luc Besson pulls a “Dallas” and resurrects this dame. Additionally, “Mission Impossible 2” actor Dougray Scott appropriates the role that actor Xander Berkeley originated as Lenora’s second husband, Stuart St. John, who showed up briefly in “Taken.” Nevertheless, despite these changes and the ill things they usually bode for a Hollywood franchise, “Taken 3” surpasses the first two epics.
“Taken 2” director Olivier Megaton and “Taken” scenarists Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen never let the pace slacken once they’ve established the premise and everything goes to Hell for our hero. Neeson has to elude cops on foot, survive cars plunging respectively down elevators as well as hillsides with explosive results, swerve around careening cars and a gigantic cargo container box tumbling down a freeway, and dodge a hailstorm of blazing lead. If you enjoyed the first two “Taken” movies, you shouldn’t be disappointed with “Taken 3.” Personally, I liked it enough to watch it twice.
Things get off to a lightweight start with former CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson of “Unknown”) buying his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace of “Lockout”) a huge, stuffed Panda bear for her birthday. While Bryan is planning to surprise Kim, Kim is staring incredulously at a pregnancy test and pondering her uncertain collegiate future. Bryan arrives at Kim’s apartment with a bottle of champagne and the Panda, and she doesn’t know what to say except he is three days early.
Our hero explains he is struggling with the problem of not being predictable. Later, his former wife Lenora turns up at his apartment and complains that her husband Stuart and she are wrestling with marital woes. Lenora kisses Bryan in a moment of intimacy, but he breaks off the lip-lock. Eventually, a jealous Stuart visits Bryan and asks him to stop seeing Lenora. Stuart plans to go out of town to Las Vegas the next day. Meantime, Bryan is out golfing with his old buddies. When he arrives home, he discovers a knife on the floor of his apartment. Absently, he picks up the knife, enters his bedroom, and finds Lenora sprawled in his bed with her throat slashed. Before Bryan realizes it, two uniformed Los Angeles Police Department patrolmen burst in with pistols drawn. When they try to handcuff him, Bryan disarms them and flees. A furious foot chase follows with Bryan barreling down back streets, vaulting fences, and scrambling through homes with the fuzz at his heels. Miraculously, Bryan manages to escape. No sooner has he eluded the long arm of the law than he reassures Kim that he had nothing to do with his ex-wife’s demise.
LAPD Inspector Franck Dotzler (Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker of “The Last King of Scotland”) heads up the investigation. Appropriately enough, he is baffled when he examines Bryan’s records and finds staggering information gaps. “The man is a ghost,” he proclaims in frustration and orders his colleagues to maintain tabs on Bryan’s daughter Kim. Meanwhile, Bryan takes refuge at a secret hideout and enlists his four buddies that served with him in the CIA to help him out of his quandary.
Director Olivier Megaton relies on multiple cameras to capture the no-holds-barred action throughout its nimble 109 minutes.
Good action thrillers not only keep the hero leaping through fiery hoops, but they also keep the audience guessing. At least two major surprises occur during “Taken 3,” and the villains qualify as worthy adversaries. During one kinetic liquor store shoot-out, Bryan eliminates four trigger-happy henchmen in a barrage of gunfire. At one point, he has the fourth dastard groveling on his knees with a pistol sticking in his face. Bryan threatens to shoot the thug if he doesn’t reveal the identity of his boss. Instead of coming clean about his superior, the thug snarls that he would rather die than squeal. Wrenching the gun from Bryan’s fingers, the villain blasts himself in the face with the pistol. One of the biggest scenes involves our hero infiltrating the lair of a murderous Russian mobster, Oleg Malankov (Sam Spruell of “Defiance”), in downtown L.A. Malankov has several well armed goons guarding his premises with a sophisticated surveillance security system. Predictably, Bryan encounters few problems circumventing the elaborate security system, but the Russian surprises him with some heavy duty artillery when they tangle. Naturally, the authorities remain two jumps behind Bryan, but they never let up on the pressure that they exert on both Bryan and Kim.
Forest Whitaker doesn’t have much of a role to work with, but he is a live-wire every moment he appears on camera, and he gets some wonderful mileage out of twisting a rubber band around his hand. Dougray Scott is exceptional as Lenora’s complicated husband who is up to his ears in trouble with Spruell’s homicidal, heavily tattooed Russian gunsel. Watching “Taken 3” is like watching the riveting Keanu Reeves’ thriller “John Wick.” These two movies amount to guilty pleasures with the accent on outlandish action sequences where the hero is not only outnumbered but also outgunned.

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