Monday, February 8, 2010

Movie Review: From Paris With Love

There's a lot of "love" going around in the titles and themes of movies these days...with very little being returned to them. Here's Justin's take on From Paris With Love, you know, the movie where John Travolta plays a sociopathic version of Telly Savalas who got all fat and angry. Enjoy!

Dangerous Liaisons
Come for the explosions, leave before the politics
Justin Senkbile

Director Pierre Morel's From Paris with Love is a shining example of the dumb, loud action-comedy, with all of the laughs coming from the “dumbness” and not the jokes. With nearly as many dead bodies as there are one-liners, Paris is like a Tarantino picture without the ego-stroking. Sadly, there isn't an ounce of Tarantino's wit or intelligence in here either.

Despite his apparently ideal job in the U.S. Embassy in Paris, James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is so desperate to join the CIA that he takes a less-than-desirable assignment with loose-canon operative Charlie Wax (John Travolta). A gun-slinging "ugly-American" stereotype with a bushy goatee, the bald Wax shoots and smirks his way through the hairiest of situations.

There's some cocaine and some wire-tapping involved, and a whole bunch of dead bodies left behind, but until the last scenes, we know as little about the mission as Reece does. No worry; there's enough ludicrous action in between to happily divert us from this fact.

Travolta's psychotic subway high-jacker Ryder, from last summer's The Taking of Pelham 123, was one of that film's many problems. He's playing essentially the same character here, but in a context that's equally absurd, making Travolta the glue that holds all this mayhem together.

Travolta's over-the-top turn is so effective, in fact, that scenes only seem to work when he's around. Rhys Meyers performs well as Wax's sniveling sidekick, but just can't command a scene when he's on his own. Not to mention the early scenes between Reece and his fiancée Caroline (Kasia Smutniak), which drip with cringe-worthy falseness.

But it’s the way the whole thing ends that’s really a shame. Paris is very fast and very fun. As a brain-dead action stimulant, it's nearly perfect. But in the last few scenes, in which writer Adi Hasak ties things up in a sloppy, naively political bow, everything that came before starts to smell a bit fishy.

Paris hastily tries to excuse all the preceding brutality committed by our heroes as a national-security necessity, an attempt to prevent a suicide bomber. Never-mind the fact that we know nothing about this bomber politically or personally, or that the renegade Wax is clearly a state-sanctioned terrorist in his own right. We’re expected to accept, with only their nationalities submitted as evidence, that Wax and Reece have right on their side, and that this bomb-clad mystery-woman is an inarguable nut. It all suddenly feels like a Bond film written by Donald Rumsfeld, wherein Wax, our average Joe America, guns his way through those heathen French in the name of democracy.

This logic is so unabashedly ugly that, for sanity’s sake, one is tempted to just chalk these final scenes up to shoddy, corner-cutting writing. Besides, the preceding hour or so is just too silly for the end to make any impact. But no matter how you look at it, Paris has bitten off way more than it can chew, and is left fumbling around with some pretty weighty issues.

Grade: C-

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