"Taken 3" Adequately Caps Off Series

Halfway through “Taken 3” a detective (Forest Whitaker) delivers some clunky exposition, to which one of his underlings replies “Sounds like spy shit to me.” Spy shit, indeed, sir. It’s a startlingly blunt confirmation that “Taken 3” couldn’t care less about story and most other things usually associated with writing. Nope, audiences flock to the “Taken” series for its lead character and his propensity for bloodless ass kicking. On that front, chapter three is a satisfactory capper to a series that certainly could have better lived up to the simple pleasures of the original film.

Liam Neeson is back, again, as ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills, a man interminably plagued by violence against his family. This time it’s his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen, “X-Men”) who’s the victim. Against the backdrop of a potential romantic reunion between the two, Lenore’s throat is slit in Bryan’s apartment and our hero is forced to go on the run. If this sounds like a generic riff on “The Fugitive,” it’s exactly that. But even though the story is no great shakes, it’s a modest improvement on its sludgy, uninspired predecessor.

Once again, Neeson is the film, anchoring impossibly bland action preambles with relative ease. He seems more enthused here than he was in “Taken 2,” but with good reason. Firstly, it’s not a straight rehash – there’s no kidnapping involved, a condition apparently mandated by the star himself – and secondly, the story’s exclusivity to Los Angeles is a welcome respite from the series’ predictably gloomy European locales.

Sure, there’s a stereotypical Russian crime lord introduced in the opening – not to reappear for a full hour – but the setting lends itself to lighter visuals, unburdening screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen from dingy self-seriousness. Director Olivier Megaton returns to better effect, seemingly less impressed with his own skills this time around. It’s a surprisingly workmanlike effort from the man who gave us the miserable “Transporter 3.” “Taken 3” speeds along enjoyably, favoring a no-nonsense approach to a story that absolutely requires one.

Maggie Grace returns as Bryan’s daughter Kim, given nothing to do but making the most of her screen time anyway. Grace continues to lend the character poise that the series doesn’t deserve, all the while giving our hero reason to stick it out through the hurricane of misery that his life has become.

Dougray Scott (“Mission: Impossible II”) assumes the role of Lenore’s on-again off-again squeeze, Stuart – played by Xander Berkeley in the original – capably playing the screenplay’s game of is-he-or-isn’t-he. Meanwhile, Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker (“The Last King Of Scotland”) continues to slum it in subpar action flicks, here as cop tasked with tracking Mills. But despite the featherweight role, the burly actor’s screen presence is as reassuring as ever, finally giving Neeson a worthy adversary.

“Taken 3” is a quota-filler, but not a miserable one. Its hilarious, mind-bendingly stupid climax is nearly worth the price of admission alone. With appreciably low expectations – not a tough task following “Taken 2” – action fans should enjoy their final go-round with Bryan Mills. Until he’s inevitably revived for “Taken 4.”

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Okay)

Release Date: January 9, 2015
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Olivier Megaton
Screenwriter: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Starring: Liam Neeson, Dougray Scott, Forest Whitaker, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Leland Orser, Sam Spruell
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and for brief strong language)