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Review

'Taken 3's' Liam Neeson fires up action, and unintended laughs

Betsy Sharkey
Los Angeles Times Film Critic
Via @BetsySharkey: Megaton of action and Liam Neeson aren't enough to keep #Taken3 interesting

"Taken 3" is so unintentionally hilarious I couldn't help but wonder — do movie contracts carry a humiliation bonus clause these days?

The high-octane action thriller once again features Liam Neeson as the former black ops guy with all those particular skills intact. But this time around the dramatics and dialogue are so laugh-out-loud funny that if there is a "4" — despite the promises that "3" is the final chapter — maybe it should be a straight-out satire.

Everyone is back from the Turkish fiasco of "Taken 2" and enjoying the L.A. sunshine. Bryan Mills (Neeson) is so chill he's occasionally catching a round of golf with the buddies, though rarely has anyone seemed so uncomfortable on the greens.

Daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), who turned into quite the ninja warrior in "2," is in college now and living with a new boyfriend (Jonny Weston), whom Bryan can intimidate. "Daddy don't shoot this one." She opens the film looking at a positive pregnancy test. Lenore (Famke Janssen), Bryan's ex and Kim's mom, drops by briefly to stoke the romantic flames and die, which gets the action rolling. And we finally meet Stuart (Dougray Scott), the very rich husband Lenore was always complaining about.

Director Olivier Megaton is also back, desperately trying to live up to that last name.

Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, writers with a decent idea when they started with "Taken" in 2008 — kidnapped kid, black-ops dad to the rescue — return without much new to offer. Everything you see and hear on screen, from the smallest bit to the biggest boom, gets explained repeatedly. I exaggerate only slightly; it's like an entire movie made for a remedial audience.

For example, early on Lenore and Bryan are chatting by phone about Kim and her rejection of a big stuffed panda (yes, a big stuffed panda) that pop bought her. He's heading back to his place to fix dinner, he explains. Does she want to stop by, he asks. No, she says. But she does, walking in to catch him chopping bell peppers, grocery bags still on the counter. He looks up, long pause, "I didn't think you were coming." "I decided to." "I'm just making dinner." Duh.

Now I'm sure I'm not remembering the dialogue exactly, but the point is that precious minutes are taken by an exchange, one of many, that merely states the obvious and restates what has already been said, often using exactly the same words. Drop the excess and the script would shrink by half, and so perhaps would the movie's nearly two-hour running time. (The first one, by comparison, was a lean, mean 93 minutes.)

There are, however, two benefits to the technique. Quite often it plays like a punch line, particularly when the dialogue is delivered as Bryan is pummeling someone. So there's the laugh factor. And at some point it becomes clear "Taken 3" does not require anything close to your full attention. Feel free to break that New Year's resolution and go get that popcorn. You will miss absolutely nothing.

The plot. Now this is a shocker: People around Bryan are dying or in danger, and he's "going to find them." The main crew is Russian led by a homicidal maniac with some major ink named Oleg (Sam Spruell). The issue is money, a debt's overdue. As much as Oleg loves collecting debts, he loves his hand tattoo more. I know this because he's usually holding his hand very still, even in the midst of a messy kidnapping, so any security camera in the area can catch that distinctive black star.

Complicating things, and adding to the hilarity, Bryan's been framed for his ex-wife's murder and while he's hunting the real killers, LAPD Inspector Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) is hunting him. Dotzler is a rubber-band snapping cop who always gets his man. That is, of course, if Bryan doesn't get him first.

Eventually the dust clears, the bodies are buried, dad and daughter have a moment. As the warm California sun sets on the former black ops guy with the particular skills, let's just hope this is really goodbye.

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'Taken 3'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for brief strong language

Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

Playing: In general release

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