"I want one with pepperoni, mushrooms, olives, no anchovies and three times the cheese."

“I want one with pepperoni, mushrooms, olives, no anchovies and three times the cheese.”

The Taken franchise has never been a critic’s favorite: A simplistic premise (a nearly superhuman guy knocks every criminal in sight to rescue his kidnapped daughter) made worse by horrifying dialogue. However, a committed performance by Liam Neeson connected with the audience and singlehandedly turned the saga into a hit.

Taken 3 shakes the formula a bit. The whole kidnapping gimmick in European settings is scrapped for a Fugitive-style plot in Los Angeles. Master security guard Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is the main suspect in the murder of his ex-wife (Famke Janssen). With the cops on his heels –sort of-, Mills goes in pursuit of the killers before they get to his twice-taken daughter (Maggie Grace).

Obviously, not much work was put on the script, or anything else for that matter. “Written” by Luc Besson and Robert Kamen, Taken 3 makes several mistakes along the way that place the movie below previous chapters. Using L.A. as only location knocks most of the charm of the saga. Plus, unlike in Nightcrawler or Inherent Vice, the city is shot in the most boring way possible.

Considering that The Fugitive playbook is one of the oldest one in Hollywood, you would think Besson and company would try to freshen up the story. Fat chance: Taken 3 is actually a step back. Instead of the hyper competent Tommy Lee Jones, we have a laid back Forest Whitaker, who refuses to follow leads because “Mills is too smart for that”. Granted, Whitaker is too good to half-ass it, but he can’t perform miracles when the material he is given is so lackluster (the key clue to prove Mills’ innocence? Bagels).

Instead of using the pathos of the previous movies (presumably Mills created a litany of enemies during his European exploits), the Taken cabal goes with vodka-swilling, tattoo-sporting Russian gangsters, the laziest option available. The audience finally gets to meet Famke Janssen’s new husband, an emasculated, shady businessman (Dougray Scott) who you know is bad news but has zero gravitas.

I wish Luc Besson would stop spamming us with these subpar action flicks. While Taken 3 is supposed to be the last of the series (Liam Neeson is pushing 63), Mills’ daughter becomes pregnant early in the movie. I can hear the trailer already: “The first three times they took her. Now they have taken her baby. Maggie Gracie stars in… Taken Babies. Coming soon to a theatre near you.”

One prairie dog with a special set of skills. Taken 3 is now playing.