Director Pierre Morel came to my attention a few years back with a movie called District B-13. It is a wild, over the top action movie that was the first to make extensive use of parkour, or free running. It is a a style of moving through and around objects in the most efficient manner possible. It is fascinating to watch and helped make this movie a must see. The style was also used during the opening chase sequence in Casino Royale. With this success Morel would then make Taken, delivering us Liam Neeson as a legitimate tough guy. The movie was a surprise hit in the US well after having already made its way through European cinemas. Now we have his latest feature, which seems to blend elements of both of those prior films into one wild action film.
I feel compelled to say that I do not like the title of the film. From Paris with Love? Really? Sure, the film has a little bit of love and it is set in Paris, but really? Aside from being a take on the classic James Bond film From Russia with Love, I feel they could have come up with a better title. I guess it is a minor nitpick when it comes right down to it; the movie is not the title despite being the first interaction any of us have with it.
As From Paris with Love opens we meet James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a highly organized and intelligent aide to the US Ambassador to France. We also learn that he is also with the CIA and is often called upon to do such tasks as switch license plates on cars being used for an operation and plant the occasional bug. At the end of the day, Reece goes home to a nice apartment that he shares with his girlfriend, Caroline (Kasia Smutniak). In between he has dreams of becoming special ops certified.
His dream takes a step towards becoming a reality when he is called upon to partner with and essentially drive around top CIA agent Charlie Wax (John Travolta) who is in town to stop some bad guys operating in the area.
The plot that follows this team up is completely inconsequential. I know it involves terrorists, drugs, a potentially dead relative of a high ranking American official, and the possibility of Reece achieving his goal of promotion. Such as it is, the plot is similar to District B-13 in that it is merely a clothesline upon which the action set pieces are to be hung. You see, this movie is not about plot, it is about having a new school buddy action/comedy that has surreal moments that cannot be believed yet still exist in a believable world where we can cheer the action and believe that terrorism can be defeated. It is a fantasy that a one-man wrecking crew can bring about the means to an end. In that respect it is not unlike the one-man war machine action movies of the 1980s that starred the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvestor Stallone, and Dolph Lundgren.
The difference here is a modern sheen. The heroes are not quite so musclebound, the enemies are a bit more faceless, the action a bit quicker, but still essentially the same. The sheen is brought to Paris by producer extraordinaire Luc Besson, who also has story credit and I believe a big hand in moving the film down the right direction. Besson directed a number of strong films early in his career, including La Femme Nikita, The Professional, and Fifth Element, before focusing more on producing. He has been behind a number of fun action films over the years. We can now count From Paris with Love among them. To be certain, this is not among the best in Besson's stable, but it still delivers a blast of fun.
What it comes down to is that fun. It is dumb, stupid, insane fun. It really does not make a lick of sense. There are moments where you think you may have a handle on it only to find it takes a sharp left and heads somewhere else. After a couple of these switches you learn to just sit back and ride along as Charlie Wax barrels through anything and everything in is way. Fist fights, car chases, shoot outs, they are all here.
If I have any issues, it is with the way things are cut. The fights are cut to completely cover for Travolta's inability to pull off the maneuvers. I wasn't expecting to see the camera pull back and show me the action (like what was done in The Book of Eli), but there is always some hope.
While Travolta may not be pulling off a lot of those moves, he is also the reason why this works so well. Much like Neeson's single-minded tough guy routine in Taken, Travolta commands your attention as the wisecracking tough guy. The movie is a joyful romp of destruction where nothing really matters so long as the good guys seem to be winning. There are moments that will put a smile on your face. A couple of the most memorable sequences are when you first meet Charlie at customs and he is fighting to keep his cans and another is when Charlie steamrolls up a stairwell and all we see is the aftermath.
Bottom line. This is a true popcorn flick. I do not always endorse this sort of film, but some are just a lot of fun in their gleeful disregard for what is usually considered necessary for a god movie. This has flash and personality, so what if the plot makes no sense? This is about the ride, not where you are going. Strap in and enjoy.