Dir. Pierre Morel. France. 2009. 92 mins.
Most people would be hard pressed to buy 26 souvenirs during their first 24 hours in Paris. But John Travolta’s cocky special ops ace kills 26 people in less than that timeframe, then asks “I wonder if they serve breakfast at the Eiffel Tower?” In other words, the plausibility quotient in From Paris with Love, director Pierre Morel’s dumb, lively follow-up to the juggernaut that was Taken, is in inverse proportion to the action.
Only a Wild West town between sheriffs has fewer law officers than this film’s depiction of Paris.
Lightning could strike twice - with $227m worldwide, $145m of that in the US, last year’s Taken was wildly successful beyond France, where it earned a respectable $9.5m. Despite the contrived situations, dopey dialogue and somewhat forced performances, this near-breathless Luc Besson-originated tale is also effective enough to pull in action-loving crowds worldwide (Lionsgate is releasing in the US Feb 5).
We first meet Travolta’s seasoned veteran Charlie Wax being loud, obnoxious and profane at French customs. Bookish assistant to the US ambassador James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) has been assigned to look after Wax but dreams of becoming a special agent himself. Reese has been told his assignment will consist mostly of “driving Wax around” but a more accurate job description would have included a novel drug bust-cum-shootout in Chinatown, a dizzying body count including fresh corpses tossed down a spiral staircase (they bounce!) and generally treating the streets of Paris like a Formula 1 race track.
Reese’s trial by fire on this mysterious mission proceeds at a breakneck pace with the protagonists pausing only long enough for wooden dialogue exchanges. Reese is also preoccupied with phoning his attractive French fiancée, Carolina (Kasia Smutniak).
Man of action Wax is never wrong. He has just arrived in Paris, yet unfailingly senses which doors to kick in and which people to kill using everything from his deadly fists to a rocket launcher fired while dangling out the window of a speeding car. Reese not only learns on the job but never again needs the eyeglasses he was wearing in the early embassy scenes.
Only a Wild West town between sheriffs has fewer law officers than this film’s depiction of Paris. A queasy subtext that diplomacy is not only for sissies but doesn’t work, permeates the proceedings
There’s an affectionate nod to Travolta’s character in Pulp Fiction but most of From Paris’s humor centres on Reese’s reluctance to kill people on a moment’s notice.
Although Travolta is a profoundly American actor, he’s been given dialogue so ludicrously expedient and expletive-heavy that he sometimes comes across like a foreigner desperate to imitate an American tough guy. Travolta gets away with his shaved head, goatee and pirate earring, but handsome Rhys Meyers has been made to look ordinary for no discernible reason.
Taken was about a father with a lifetime of special training who sets out for Paris to rescue his beloved teenage daughter from ruthless white slavers. From Paris is less focused and loathe to let us know what, exactly, Wax’s mission is, which reduces viewer investment in the outcome.
Morel’s purely visual work continues to outstrip his direction of actors. But he has delivered a watchable chunk of entertainment for people who like their movies loud and violent with a light veneer of political relevance.
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Jonathan Rhys Meyers