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Front Page - Friday, January 16, 2015

The Critic's Corner

Third time's a dud

Bryan Mills, the central character in the three “Taken” movies starring Liam Neeson, has a particular set of skills he learned and employed as a CIA operative. After retirement, he used these same abilities to rescue loved ones from the clutches of bad men. His expertise in finding and hurting people undeniably made him the man for the job.

It’s ironic, then, that 20th Century Fox hired Olivier Megaton to direct the third “Taken” film. Judging by what I saw, he was not the man for the job. I’ll use the highway chase as a case in point.

Picture this: The police have arrested Mills and are taking him in when he attempts to commandeer the car in which they’re transporting him. With several other police vehicles in pursuit, the car in which Mills is traveling soars over the barrier dividing the two sides of a highway. Dodging ensues as the cop at the wheel drives the wrong way. When the driver of a tractor trailer heading toward the car slams on his brakes, he jackknifes, which places him on an unavoidable collision course with Mills. Somehow, the cop avoids the truck, and Mills escapes unharmed.

The key word in the above paragraph is “somehow.” “Taken 3” contains – hands down – the worst action I’ve seen committed to film. Shots last half of a second, or a second at most, the camera is whipped wildly around, and there’s no connection from one shot to the next. It’s impossible to tell what characters are doing, where they are in relation to each other, how bodies get slammed against a wall, or how everyone ends up where they are when the dust clears. Instead, the action is an incomprehensible blur of hyper-fast images, as though the movie is having a seizure, and you got to pay 15 bucks to watch.

Despite all of this effort, the action in “Taken 3” lacks tension and excitement. It’s as though Megaton has no clue how to stage, shoot, or edit action. So why was he hired to direct what many people see as a blockbuster franchise?

He didn’t do much better with the dramatic scenes. He staged the actors awkwardly, shot them too closely, and used a distracting handheld style. The actors must have felt uncomfortable or rushed because even usually terrific performers like Neeson and Famke Janssen, who plays Mills’s ex-wife, look awkward in several sequences.

The script didn’t help matters. In “Taken 3,” Mills tries to protect his daughter after his ex-wife is murdered and the police tap him as their suspect. While the core story isn’t bad, there are several poorly conceived, highly illogical, and laughably bad scenes.

For example: Once Mills is on the run, he calls his daughter, a college student, and tells her he’ll be in touch. I thought, “You’ve got her on the phone, why don’t you just tell her what you need to say now?” But never mind. Earlier, his daughter’s boyfriend recounted her habit of going to the same convenience store every day and buying the same drink – but not the one in the front of the cooler. Instead, she counts back four bottles and buys that one so it will still be cold in class.

When he did this, I knew there would be a scene in which Mills leaves her a note on the juice. And I was right. But here’s where things get absurd: The note says “Drink me now,” which she does. Then she goes to class, where she gets sick. To relieve herself, she goes to the girl’s restroom, where her dad is waiting, antidote in hand.

Again, my thinking was, why didn’t he just write “Meet me in the girl’s bathroom” on the note. But never mind. Poisoning your daughter so she’ll go to the restroom makes more sense.

“Taken 3” is filled with similar absurdities, including a scene in which Mills attempts to rescue his daughter by driving a car into the airplane on which she’s traveling. He hits the plane just as it’s taking off, causing him and the jet to crash. I wondered if he’d taken a hit to the head but I’d missed it because Megaton was whipping his camera around in an attempt to mask his inability to direct a movie.

Enough said. If you haven’t seen “Taken 3,” save your money.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for brief strong language. David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at dlaprad@hamiltoncountyherald.com.