Taken 3

Say what you will about Hollywood, those people are very good at making sequels that utterly fail to capture what people liked about the first one. It’s almost a gift. “Taken 2” had less energy, action, and butt-kicking than its predecessor, merely repeating what had happened before without raising the stakes or offering anything new (OK, except for using grenades and the speed of sound to triangulate someone’s location, that was neat).

Now comes “Taken 3” to force the franchise into being a trilogy, something it never asked for. Again directed by comically pseudonymed French goofus Olivier Megaton, with another dimwitted screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, this lethargic entry has a plot that screams, “We didn’t just want to kidnap the daughter again, but we didn’t know what else to do! And we couldn’t just, you know, not make a third one at all. We HAD to!” That, verbatim, is what the plot screams.

Forget the foreign adventures of yestermovie. This one’s set entirely in Los Angeles, where Liam Neeson’s particular-set-of-skills-having ex-government operative Bryan Mills is framed for murder. Yes, MURDER! Instead of rescuing someone, this time he must find the real killer and clear his own name. Presumably he was set up by the associates of one or more of the henchmen he slew in the first two movies, and there are indeed a number of lumpy-faced Europeans lurking around, popping into this scene or that.

Prior to the framing, though, there is obligatory scene-setting. Surely the reason you came to see “Taken 3” was to learn what Bryan’s family members have been up to. Bryan’s ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), tells him she’s having marital problems with her second husband, untrustworthy businessman Stuart St. John (Dougray Scott). Bryan also does the loving father-daughter thing with Kim (Maggie Grace), a college student with an acceptable boyfriend. Kim learns she’s pregnant, and she’s about to tell her dad over lunch, but then the movie does that thing where she’s gearing up to tell him, and there are some rowdy kids in the diner, and Bryan says something like, “Man, you should never children!” And so then she doesn’t tell him. You know, like on a sitcom.

THEN he gets framed for murder. It’s a pretty ham-fisted framing, too, pretty easy to clear up. But rather than show the police all the evidence that exonerates him (including one instance where it’s literally on a computer screen right in front of them), he goes on the lam, evading the cops while protecting Kim from within the shadows. Forest Whitaker plays a police detective who keeps one eye on Kim, the other on something in the opposite corner of the room.

Some of us laughed and shook our heads at how “Taken” and “Taken 2” were both rated PG-13 despite being preposterously violent. “Taken 3” is PG-13 again, only now the violence — again, one of the main things we came for — has been toned down. Neeson hardly even kills anyone! Nobody really gets taken, either, which seems like a serious betrayal of the audience’s trust. You get a kick out of some of Mills’ elaborate methods of hiding, surveilling, and manipulating, but that only takes you so far. Mostly, you get the sense that this intentionally superficial character and premise have been stretched out much further than they were ever meant to be stretched.

C- (1 hr., 49 min.; PG-13, some profanity, an F-bomb, a lot of moderate action violence.)