A film review by Craig J. Koban February 10, 2010
FROM PARIS WITH LOVE
2010, R, 92 mins.
2010, R, 92 mins.
Charlie Wax: John Travolta / James Reese: Jonathan Rhys Meyers / Caroline:
Kasia Smutniak / Ambassador: Richard Durden / Wong: Bing
want to thank-you, John Travolta…for being cool again.
I sat through last year’s terminally dreadful and unfunny OLD
DOGS I thought that the actor had hit his cinematic Waterloo.
Yes, he has made some stinkers in the past (WILD
HOGS and BATTLEFIELD EARTH, to name a few), but there was very
little in the way of succinctly describing how cringe inducing it was to
witness Travolta in OLD DOGS engage in gags involving fecal matter and drug side effects, not
to mention how inexcusably sad it was to see him over act to grossly
unfunny, histrionic levels. This
was the same man that was in SATURDAY
NIGHT FEVER, URBAN COWBOY, BLOW OUT, PULP
FICTION, and GET SHORTY? I
cried foul, not to mention that I was wondering if the Travolta I saw in
OLD DOGS was a fiendish impostor.
I can confidently and joyously state that Travolta of old is back with a
gun-tooting, f-bomb dispensing, hot tempered, and scenery chewing glee in
FROM PARIS WITH LOVE, an action thriller that should not, in any way shape
or form, be confused with one of the greatest James Bond films of all
time, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. Regardless
of the unfortunate comparisons that the title elicits, FORM PARIS WITH
LOVE is a jubilant return to badass form for the 55-year-old actor,
playing the role of a covert American spy that looks more like a freakish
Hell’s Angels member than a government fixer.
With a ultra cool shaved head, an aggressively trimmed goatee, a flamboyantly pierced ear, and a furrowed brow and anti-social disposition
that definitely precludes killing first and asking questions later, this
is the guilty pleasure Travolta of old that lets it rip with reckless
abandon. It’s great to see
the actor have fun and with a role and not slum within it, like he did with OLD DOGS.
Seeing Travolta mow his way through countless adversaries, swear up
an ear-gasmic storm, and strut with a real bravado as only he knows how
is an unapologetic scream. It’s
reasons like this why his best efforts in the past - playing ruthlessly
loveable killers like in FACE/OFF, BROKEN ARROW, and last year’s
underrated remakes of THE TAKING
OF PEHLAM 123 – were so winning and engaging.
the film Travolta exudes cocky, antagonistic and fearless machismo as Charlie
Wax, an American spy that, much like Mr. Wolf in PULP FICTION, is a master
of fixing large problems, albeit of on a global, political level.
We see Wax and his story unfold through the eyes of a semi-dweeby
intellectual government stooge named James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers)
who works as the assistant to the American Ambassador in Paris.
He is not particularly field trained and spends most of his idle time
guarding over the Ambassador and playing chess with him, but Reece
desperately craves for the opportunity to become a fully-fledged field
agent. While he’s not day
dreaming of a better future and watching out over his bosses’ needs, he
leads a fairly quiet and quaint domestic life with his attractive fiancé, Caroline
(the smolderingly fetching Polish-born newcomer, Kasia Smutniak).
His day job and home life are perfectly…normal.
that is until the Ambassador gives Reece an assignment to partner up with
and drive around Wax, whom has just recently arrived in Paris on an secret and mysterious assignment.
At first, Reece is as energetic and happy as a school boy with the
proposition of being teamed up with a big league spy, thinking that this
is his meal ticket into a life of high stakes espionage that he has been
hopes and enthusiasm are very quickly curtailed within his first few hours
working with Wax, who is a ferociously foul-mouthed, immoral, and
degenerately violent SOB that seems to take great relish in breaking
whatever laws are in the book to get the job done and done fast.
Throughout much of their frequently vicious and bloody escapades
through the streets of Paris, it becomes very clear that the renegade in
Wax is a polar opposite to the suit-and-tie ethics of Reese, but when it
becomes clear that Wax’s initial mission to stop some ruthless Asian
drug dealers has more far ranging and deeply personal ties to Reece, these
two mismatched operatives must work together in a race against the
clock to stop a terrorist cell that hopes to enact a malicious plan
that could prove fatal.
overall plot to FROM PARIS WITH LOVE is ridiculous and, at times, somewhat
incomprehensible, which is not necessarily an overall hindrance.
The narrative is essentially empty-headed and flat and works on the
preordained conventions and clichés of the buddy/action film (very rarely
does it sway much from the genre’s formulas).
Yet, I am not sure that viewers will be heading into FROM PARIS
WITH LOVE expecting intriguing themes and sobering messages; they are in
the theatres, I suppose, to see a fast paced, moderately thrilling, and
viscerally engaging action film, and that’s where it works well.
Attempts and creating any type of palpable realism in the film is
never in the cards here: there are times when Travolta’s Wax – who
comes across as a superhumanly dexterous and insanely proficient killer –
leaves a body count in his wake that is absurdly comical.
It’s really the mayhem that the characters finds
and how they find preposterously inventive ways to get out of it that
makes films like this tick with a testosterone-induced lunacy, and for
that FROM PARIS WITH LOVE never apologizes for its aims.
it is Travolta’s cackling madman of a covert spy that is the hypnotic
glue that keeps this whole enterprise afloat, and the freakish charm he
brings to the proceedings is shamelessly infectious.
I guess it comes as no surprise that Jonathan Rhys Meyers comes off
as a bit flat and inconsequential while paired next to Travolta’s
motor-mouthed sociopath, which may or may not have been the point with his
performance. Rhys Meyers is
adequate playing his government lackey with aspirations of a grander
life, but he seems to be delegated to second fiddle status
when sharing the screen with Travolta.
There’s also a plot twist involving a key character that, if you
pay even mild attention to the story early on, you can foresee with relative
film has other issues as well, aside from its lame title, it’s clichéd
plot on auto-pilot, and the puppet-like nature of Rhys Meyers’ role:
While there are some very decent attempts at macabre hilarity (like a
gruesome moment involving a spiral staircase in which bodies begin to slam
and fall down into it from Wax’s maniacal killing spree from a higher
level and a later scene involving a cell phone, two speeding cars on a
freeway, and Wax hanging out the window of one with a bazooka), there are
other gags that prove more distracting than funny.
There is a somewhat surprising PULP FICTION reference (hint: watch
for Wax’s favourite midnight snack) that feels really, really forced: it
makes viewers recall a far better film that Travolta was in instead of
keeping us grounded in the world of the film he currently occupies.
Also, for a film shot in Paris, the city has never looked so
wholeheartedly grungy and slimy: this is not a city of love that I would
ever want to visit.
Yet, these are nitpicks in an otherwise insidiously goofy and fun film. FROM PARIS WITH LOVE was provided by director Pierre Morel and writer Luc Besson, the former who previously made the impressively action-packed DISTRICT 13 in 2004 and followed that up with last year’s surprise Liam Neeson hit TAKEN, which had the actor playing a father going ballistic on the European scum that has kidnapped his teenage daughter into slavery. Besson as of late has become a provocateur of easily digestible and entertaining fast-food action cinema by creating the TRANSPORTER film series that fused together incredulously stylized action with a vengefully determined anti-hero in a plot that, when all was said and done, was a tertiary element to film’s overall tone. Morel and Besson once again prove their slick expertise when it comes to exploitation trash (or, should it be called "Euro trash"?) cinema: FROM PARIS WITH LOVE never professes to reinvent the modern action film milieu. Instead, like a big, greasy, and inviting Royale With Cheese, the film is nutritionally inert, but tasty and wickedly digestible. You’ll leave the theatre either with a groan of contempt or a sly grin of reverence for it...count me in the latter category.
Oh...and yes...Travolta is cool again.