‘Taken 3,’ ‘Cake’ Arrive on Home Video

Forrest Hartman

 

Actor Liam Neeson leads this week’s new video releases with a starring role in the third “Taken” movie.

 

Taken 3

1½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for brief strong language
20th Century Fox
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD and digital download

 

Liam Neeson made one of the most interesting career transitions in recent memory when he introduced the role of former government agent Bryan Mills in “Taken.” Before the film, Neeson was an actor best-known for solid dramatic work in pictures that include “Schindler’s List” and “Michael Collins.” But, as Mills, he became an action hero of the Dirty Harry variety, dispensing swift, brutal street justice to the sex-trafficking European thugs who abducted his daughter (Maggie Grace). “Taken” was such a hit that it paved the way for Neeson to take similar roles in “Non-Stop,” “A Walk Among the Tombstones” and “Run All Night.” It also spawned one too many sequels.

 

In the franchise’s first two movies, Mills was responding to kidnappings (his daughter’s in the first film and his wife’s and his own in the second). Apparently realizing that this shtick has grown tired, the filmmakers dump it in “Taken 3.”

 

After a brief setup, Bryan gets a desperate-looking text from his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen). He agrees to meet her at his place for bagels and then goes out for the food. When Bryan returns, he finds Lenore’s dead body in his Los Angeles home, and the police are just moments behind.

 

Obviously, Bryan has been framed, but rather than explain himself, he assaults the police officers and goes on the run. This – the first of several ridiculous plot twists – sparks a massive manhunt that forces Bryan to go “down the rabbit hole” to a safe house that he and some like-minded pals control. As always happens in movies like this, Bryan then attempts to solve his wife’s murder before the police catch up to him. This is only possible because everyone on the Los Angeles police force – with the exception of a wily lead inspector named Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) – is depicted as incompetent.

 

“Taken 3” is redundant not only because viewers have watched Neeson tread similar ground twice before but because the plotting is essentially borrowed from a host of better movies, including “The Fugitive” and “To Catch a Thief.”

 

None of the “Taken” movies are really believable if one wants to dissect them, but this third entry is even less credible than the prior films. Bryan’s actions are both implausible and morally bankrupt, as he places hundreds of innocents in harm’s way while attempting to avoid arrest. In fact, in real life, Bryan would face a lengthy prison sentence even if he were able to prove he didn’t kill his ex-wife.

 

Much of the problem with “Taken 3” is that the series has run its course. The first movie was an entertaining romp best approached as a one-off story, and producers should have been ecstatic that they found a way to produce even one successful sequel. “Taken 3” just feels lazy.

 

Director Olivier Megaton, who also directed “Taken 2,” “Transporter 3” and “Colombiana,” again proves capable with action sequences, but little else. These days, there are countless directors capable of staging breathtaking car chases, exciting shootouts and gripping martial arts showdowns. The best of the breed set themselves apart by telling great stories. They also focus on character development, so viewers can build an emotional relationship with the people on screen. Megaton does none of this, and the result is gratuitous action and silliness.

 

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a photo gallery, several behind-the-scenes featurettes and a deleted scene.

 

 

Cake

2½ stars
Rated R for language, substance abuse and brief sexuality
20th Century Fox
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD and digital download

 

After Jennifer Aniston received a best dramatic actress Golden Globe nomination for her work in “Cake,” many believed an Oscar nomination was on the horizon. That honor never arrived, but Aniston deserves kudos for her work nonetheless.

 

In her best film outing to date, Aniston plays Claire Bennett, a woman struggling to recover from a terrible car accident. Claire is in a state of constant pain that she tolerates only with a growing dependence on prescription drugs, and “Cake” makes it clear that her emotional trauma is equally severe.

 

The movie begins with Claire attending a support group where the attendees mourn the loss of Nina (Anna Kendrick), a member who recently committed suicide. For reasons unknown, Claire becomes obsessed with Nina, even visiting the woman’s house and forming a friendship with her husband, Roy (Sam Worthington), and their young son. As bizarre as these actions seem, they lead Claire to examine her own trauma and decide whether to move on with life or follow Nina’s lead. 

 

Director Daniel Barnz moves the action at a leisurely pace, giving the actors plenty of time for character development. To a degree, this is nice because it allows viewers to invest in the action, but the project often drags. This is particularly true because of the subject matter.

 

Barnz and Aniston never mask the pain that Claire endures, so viewers spend nearly every moment of the 102-minute drama watching the character grimace and struggle. Everything from Claire’s interactions with her devoted maid (Adrianna Barraza) to her visits with Roy are scarred by physical discomfort. While Barnz should be lauded for this realistic depiction of chronic pain, it is hard to watch someone suffer for this length of time. 

 

Blu-ray and DVD extras include two behind-the-scenes featurettes.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

 

“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” – The Complete Series: All 10 episodes of the Hallmark Channel series about postal workers who attempt to find the intended recipients of undeliverable letters. Eric Mabius, Kristin Booth, Geoff Gustafson and Crystal Lowe star.

 

“The Musketeers” – The Complete Second Season: Ten episodes of the BBC drama based on characters from writer Alexandre Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers” novel. Tom Burke, Santiago Cabrera, Howard Charles and Luke Pasqualino star.

 

Author Bio:

Forrest Hartman, a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine, is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation's largest publications. For more of his work visit www.ForrestHartman.com. 

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