From Paris With Love
Director : Pierre Morel
Screenplay : Adi Hasak (based on a story by Luc Besson)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2010
Stars : John Travolta (Charlie Wax), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (James Reece), Kasia Smutniak (Caroline), Richard Durden (Ambassador Bennington), Yin Bing (M. Wong), Amber Rose Revah (Nichole), Eric Gordon (Foreign Minister), François Bredon (The Thug), Chems Dahmani (Rashid), Sami Darr (The Pimp), Julien Hagnery (Chinese Punk), Mostéfa Stiti (Dir Yasin), Rebecca Dayan (Foreign Minister’s Aide), Michaël Vander-Meiren (Airport Security Official), Didier Constant (Customs Official)
From Paris With Love comes from the same team (director Pierre Morel and producer/cowriter Luc Besson) that gave us last year’s surprise January hit Taken (2009), and hopes are clearly high that it will replicate that movie’s success in the early weeks of the new year, a notorious dumping ground for studio dreck. However, while Taken was an exaggerated, but nevertheless emotionally stirring action movie about fatherly protectiveness (mostly due to the presence of Liam Neeson in the lead role), From Paris With Love is a straight-up cartoon, an over-the-top mixture of bad-ass verbal bluster, two-dimensional villainy, martial arts mayhem, and absurd action setpieces. Instead of Neeson’s quiet gravitas, we get John Travolta’s loud-mouthed audacity as a cocky government operative tracking down all sorts of terroristic bad guys in the heart of France.
Travolta’s Charlie Wax is paired with James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who is currently working as an aid to the U.S. Ambassador (Richard Durde), but has aspirations of working dangerous special ops missions despite his engagement to his beautiful and doting French girlfriend (Kasia Smutniak). Wax and Reece’s odd-couple pairing has a certain visual culture-clash charm: Travolta, with a shaved head, bristly goatee, and huge hoop earring, is all neckless meat-and-potatoes masculinity (a very literal ugly American), which contrasts sharply with Jonathan Rhys Meyer’s more refined metrosexual (read: European) elegance. Reece is basically on hand to keep Wax from going overboard, which he does anyway, taking Reece with him most of the time. Over a 24-hour period they barnstorm their way through the darker corners of the City of Light, knocking down and shooting up all manner of Asian hoodlums and Middle Eastern thugs.
Screenwriter Adi Hasak (working from a story by Besson that was probably jotted down on a cocktail napkin) spends much time and energy keeping us guessing why Wax is in town and what he’s really after. For a while it appears that he may be more corrupt than good, especially when he’s ordering Reece to cart around a giant vase of cocaine they confiscated from a drug dealer posing as a restaurateur. Wax is loud, vulgar, and exceedingly violent, but he seems to get the job done, which may very well be the movie’s main point about national security: By any means necessary. The film’s violence is mostly rote and routine, with a few visual flourishes to remind you that Morel is capable of better things and one out-of-place moment of reflection in which Reece faces his bloodied visage in a mirror to come to grips with having actually killed someone (the scene works in and of itself, but not within the context of the throwaway bloodshed that dominates the film).
The first half of From Paris With Love is genuinely lousy, even by the admittedly low standards to which it is aspiring. Its cartoonishness is more grating than amusing, and the fast-paced nature of the plot (primarily Wax and Reece speeding from location to location and blowing people away) doesn’t so much pull you in as it simply runs you over. However, a little more than halfway through the story there is a surprising twist that essentially gives it a new lease on life, as it turns from a one-note shoot-’em-up (although there is still plenty of shooting) into a suspenseful race against time in which more than just national security hangs in the balance. If I were being truly generous, I would suspect that the movie’s boneheaded first half is really just a macguffin designed to keep you pointed in the wrong direction before the real story is sprung, but I suspect that may be giving it too much credit.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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