(Netflix Streaming, November 2015) It may be time to sit down with Liam Neeson for an intervention. For all of the money he must be making in doing these action thrillers at an age where most actors are trying to slow down, it’s not movies like Taken 3 that will make up his end-of-career highlights reel. Duller and clunkier than most action thrillers, Taken 3 stays near Los Angeles in depicting a third family crisis for Neeson’s protagonist. This time, though, the film dares to kill a returning character and the protagonist’s fury seems curiously tame compared to the first two films. But then again, he’s being followed by criminals and the police. Less xenophobic but far less interesting, Taken 3 struggles with the bare essentials of its genre: the action sequences are badly directed by Olivier Megaton, with choppy editing, incoherent sense of space and uncontrolled dramatic progression. Taken 3 is lazy filmmaking at best, almost uninterested in its own story on the way to delivering another film in the series. It doesn’t do much, wastes the dramatic potential of a death in the family and feels rote even at the best of times. Neeson is far better than the material, and he’s the sole reason why this wasn’t a straight-to-video release. What’s more damaging, though, is that he’s getting to be, well, a bit boring in these action roles. Next to the underwhelming Run all Night and A Walk Among the Tombstones, we’re far from the dramatic heft of The Gray, or the bonkers action of Non-Stop or The A-Team. I hope he starts picking better projects soon.
(On Cable TV, April 2012) If anyone in the world has earned the right to write yet another female assassin movie, it’s probably Luc Besson. Besson’s not a particularly gifted screenwriter, but as a director he did help popularize the female-assassin stereotype in movies such as Nikita. Colombiana is another riff on a familiar concept: As a young girl’s parents are murdered by a drug lord, she vows revenge and dedicates her life to becoming a killing machine. The story picks up years later as she nears her vengeance. The rest is simply a series of kill-sequences noisily arranged by director Olivier Megaton, from a script by Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. While some of their previous collaborations such as Transporter 3 were terrible even by B-movie standards, Colombiana is closer to Taken in understanding the mechanics of the action-thriller genre and delivering the formula in an energetic fashion. It helps that Zoe Saldana has the lithe physique and feral intensity required by the role: Colombiana wouldn’t be as good without her intensely physical performance. The cinematography, at least, is a bit more ambitious than usual and the result is a slick action movie. It may not avoid a bit of stupidity around the edges, but it’s put together with some competence and doesn’t overstay its welcome once the overlong prologue is done. Big guns, big explosions, original executions all point a little bit too much as set-piece-driven carnography, but fans of B-grade action movies will understand the game being played here. The result is potable.