Review: Even Liam Neeson’s massive body count can’t liven up the dull ‘Taken 3’

Hey, Warner Bros, I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that someone finally cracked the way to remake “The Fugitive.”

The bad news is that “Taken 3” is that movie, and it's for another studio.

Serial killer John Taken (Liam Neeson) is back in the swing of things as he kills his way through an ocean of anonymous mobsters because something something money something shaky-cam something something killed bare handed.

I remain fascinated by this entire empire of Europa action films, each one apparently written over a long wine-soaked weekend by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, all of them just variations on different genre conventions. The first “Taken” was a small gem, made more interesting than it otherwise might have been because Liam Neeson wasn't really thought of as an action hero. He was 56 when the first film was made, and at this point, we accept him as a badass because of the films, rather than any genuine fear of him.

At this point, Neeson can make these movies on auto-pilot, and that's certainly the case here. Olivier Megaton is not a terrible filmmaker, but he's also not particularly great. He makes capable enough slick little action movies, and not one of them has a thing to say. They are empty sensation, and Megaton seems to be perfectly okay with that.

The real problem with “Taken 3,” though, isn't any single person. Instead, “Taken” suffers from what I call “Die Hard Syndrome.” In the first film, John Taken's daughter was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it forced John Taken to unleash some serious hell on them. I'll buy it. Sure, he's ex-CIA, so that's why he's such a convenient badass, and sure, it's a huge stretch to imagine someone randomly kidnapping the daughter of this deadly weapon of a man.

But it was just meant to be a one-off. A single film. When they made “Taken,” they were not thinking, “Okay, first we've got to plan out all the sequels we're going to make for this franchise,” There was no discussion of fleshing the film out to create a new franchise. They just made a good solid fun action film, and they kept it modest and relentless. When the film became a mega-hit, they had to keep manufacturing reasons for bad guys to take his family, and each film becomes more ludicrous. The “Die Hard” films have always been hobbled by the idea that the only way you can make sequels is if you completely violate the premise that John McClane was a normal guy who had to make the best of a horrible situation. Now he's a cookie-cutter super-cop, and it's boring to watch, because there is nothing recognizably human to hold onto in these films.

Films like these also tend to rise or fall based on how good their villains are. If we're going to have to swallow a premise as ridiculous as this, with Neeson on the run because he's been accused of murdering his ex-wife, then at least give us a great slimy villain for Neeson to focus all of his anger on. The big boss here looks like Ike Barinholtz on “Eastbound & Down,” making it very difficult for me to take him seriously, and right now, 12 hours after getting out of the film, I can't tell you what his plan was or why he and Neeson end up locked in mortal battle.

“Taken 3” is formula filmmaking at its most formulaic, a film that exists only because it makes sense financially. Luc Besson can pump these movies out now in a relatively quick time, and he manages to keep costs down. These movies must delight their distributors, but they're so calculated that I feel like they bounce right off the audience. “Taken 3” isn't bad enough for me to get excited by it one way or another. It's just franchise maintenance, perfunctory and professional and utterly without an ounce of inspiration involved.

“Taken 3” is in theaters now.