Man is the warmest place to hide. ‐ — ‐ 20th Century Fox
Once upon a time, almost a half century ago, in a ramshackle pastry shop outside a small village in rural France, a muscular baby boy was birthed from an even more muscular vagina. His parents, being big fans of cinema, christened him after their seventeenth favorite actor, and no one was surprised when the boy became a young man and the man became a movie director. His passion was for action films ‐ usually ones with a number in the title ‐ and his name was Olivier Megaton.
Well, his name still is Oliver Megaton, and when someone with a name like Oliver Megaton makes an action movie it feels like the kind of perfectly inspired pairing that only comes along once in a millennium. Like if someone named Fanny Shytles grew up to make Adam Sandler comedies. How do you turn away from that divine promise? How do you know where to draw the line and say enough is enough? How do you choose not to see an action movie made by a man named Olivier Megaton?
Four words (and three numbers). Transporter 3. Colombiana. Taken 2. Taken 3.
Bryan Taken (Liam Neeson) used to have a bad habit of misplacing things ‐ his keys, his remote control, his loved ones ‐ but he’s gotten much better since he’s stopped taking trips overseas. He’s more of a homebody now, content slicing peppers for dinner instead of slicing bad guys for Uncle Sam, but when he returns home from buying some very hot bagels and finds his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) dead in his bed he knows it’s time to un-retire his very particular set of skills once again. Framed for the murder, he’s forced on the run from the police, a mysterious gaggle of Russian thugs and L.A.’s most renowned culinary detective, Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker).
Taken 3 opens with a no-name executive being abducted, stuffed in a trunk with his dead dalmatian and then murdered by the aforementioned Russians before bringing in the characters we know and love from international box office hits Taken and Taken 2. Bryan is still struggling to be a good dad and ex-husband while his 31 year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) ‐ “When did she grow up?” he asks his ex, before she’s murdered ‐ is trying to decide if she’s pregnant or just thinking about adopting a puppy. His attempts to identify the killers and their motive reveals that Kim’s in danger too, and once again he kicks himself for having never taken the time to teach her some basic self defense moves.
The quick takeaway here is that this is little more than a clone of The Fugitive, but that’s disrespectful of clones. The script by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen (who else?) stops trying from the opening frames, and it’s a bloodless and bland downhill trip from there. The mystery as to who’s behind the killing is as obvious as their motive ‐ that is to say very, very obvious ‐ and the path both Bryan and Det. Dotzler take to the truth is not only ridiculous but also riddled with idiocy, laughably unnecessary flashbacks and a scene where the 6'4" Neeson successfully hides under a much shorter guard’s dead body.
This is a movie where a father leaves a note for his daughter, telling her to drink a peach yogurt drink that he’s effectively poisoned so that about an hour later it will make her nauseous in class forcing her to head to a specific bathroom where he will surprise her with the antidote ‐ as opposed to simply saying on the note “Hi Kim, Please meet me in this bathroom at this time. P.S. Please eat this note.”
Neeson is at his wooden best here, and the closest he comes to revealing emotion or range is the scene where Bryan finds his wife’s body, checks for a pulse, and then proceeds to slap her wrist like you would an old television with fuzzy reception. Grace meanwhile gets a handful of silent scenes with her mom’s sweater meant to show a serious, grief-filled reaction to death. It’s Whitaker though who proves once again that he’s never better than when he’s playing an L.A. cop. (Shout out to all my fellow Street Kings lovers! [crickets] Hello?) He spends the film alternating finger affectations ‐ rubber band, chess piece, bagel, repeat ‐ and expressing begrudging respect for his quarry, and when he says he knew something was up from the moment he bit into that hot bagel you believe him in your heart.
The script is terrible, but at least it entertains with an abundance of unintentional laughs to the point that it’s almost a better comedy than most actual comedies. But as an action movie? It’s a jittery, uninteresting mess.
Despite Olivier Megaton’s best intentions the action in his films is continuously edited within an inch of its life. The sequences are little more than rapid-fire cuts, frequently consisting of close-ups, that leave viewers with no sense of geography or spatial awareness. An early foot chase here fails to excite for that very reason, as does a subsequent car chase. The latter should be thrilling ‐ they’re going against traffic on a highway! ‐ but this film isn’t even worthy of cleaning up the theater floor after a screening of To Live and Die in L.A. And the highway chase in William Friedkin’s classic is thirty years old!
The gunfights have something of a tactile feel to them as splinters, glass and pieces of wall fill the air on impact in lieu of blood ‐ it’s PG-13, you know, for kids ‐ but the fisticuffs are as inscrutable as the chase scenes. It’s been an unappealing trait in action movies for a while now, but in the light of last year’s The Raid 2 and John Wick it’s simply not acceptable any more. It’s not hard people. Choreograph solid action, shoot it wide and show it to us in glimpses that last longer than a second at a time.
Fool me once Olivier Megaton, shame on you. Fool me four times Olivier Megaton? Shame on your parents for that sweet-sounding name of yours that again and again makes me think you have a kick-ass action movie inside you just waiting to spill out, splash across the big screen and fill my eyeballs with bone-crushing, metal-crashing joy.
The Upside: Frequently funny; Forest Whitaker; Leland Orser!
The Downside: Action scenes are edited into incomprehensible junk; script is incredibly obvious and filled with ludicrous dialogue
On the Side: I’m no medical expert, but I’d hazard a guess that if a woman is killed via a slashed throat we wouldn’t expect to see her less than a day later in the morgue with scar tissue on her neck. Right? No coroner is that good.