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'Taken 3' review: Franchise end on a dispiriting note

Liam Neeson is back as Bryan Mills, a

Liam Neeson is back as Bryan Mills, a former government operative with "a particular set of skills" in "Taken 3." This time, someone has murdered his wife (Famke Janssen) and framed him for it. Credit: 20th Century Fox / Daniel McFadden

Remember what a thrill it was to see Liam Neeson, at the distinguished age of 55, use his imposing frame and actorly gravitas to become a gun-toting, face-smashing CIA agent named Bryan Mills in 2009's "Taken"? Essentially a third-rate Bruce Willis movie, and making no apologies for it, "Taken" had a threadbare plot -- Albanian sleazeballs kidnap Mills' daughter -- but it also had fast-moving energy and hard-hitting violence. The $25 million cheapie took in $145 million at the box-office and transformed Neeson into a midlife action star.

Two sequels later, it seems neither Neeson nor his franchise creators -- producer Luc Besson and his co-writer, Robert Mark Kamen -- has the stamina to continue. Ideas and energy were already dwindling in 2012's "Taken 2" (another locale, another kidnapping), but all creativity has evaporated in "Taken 3." The tagline on the posters, "It Ends Here," implies that it's time to call it a night.

But first, the movie needs making. Here's what passes for a plot: Two cops discover Mills hovering over his dead ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), with a bloody knife. Despite an obvious alibi -- he was just at a bagel store and has the warm bag to prove it -- the cops arrest Mills, who knocks them out and flees. Los Angeles Police Detective Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) arrives on the crime scene and proves a sharp-eyed if unorthodox investigator. He eats the bagels.

Neeson's Mills is equally unimpressive. Instead of survival skills and training, he relies on old CIA buddies (Leland Orser plays the tech maven Sam) who provide passcodes, weapons and surveillance equipment. None of it much helps them pinpoint the real killer: A blinged-out Russian mobster, Malankov (Sam Spruell)? Or Lenore's shady husband, Stuart (Dougray Scott)? Maggie Grace, as Mills' daughter, Kim, once again takes the distressed damsel role.

Returning director Olivier Megaton seems either distracted (the car-chase sequences are incoherent) or simply bored by the listless, largely actionless material. The "Taken" franchise ends on a dispiriting note: It's a third-rate Liam Neeson movie.

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