I love big, dumb action movies as much as the next guy. But what happens when a film becomes too dumb to be fun anymore? Such is the case with From Paris with Love, produced by Luc Besson and starring John Travolta.
Director Pierre Morel (District B13, the Liam Neeson revenge vehicle Taken, and the in-the-works Dune remake) has shown he can construct an entertaining film. Even when centered around the most ludicrous plots, he’s shown us either characters you want to see win in the end or filled them with enough outrageous action and fight sequences your brain can just sit back and relax.
Luc Besson is well known for delivering action-driven films so overblown you can’t help but love them and generally there’s a huge amount of fun as the driving source. While he’s credited with the story, the screenplay is written by someone else (Adi Hasak), and things seem to spring a leak somewhere along the line.
Besson’s earliest work behind the camera delivered high-octane, escapist enjoyment (The Big Blue, La Femme Nikita, and Leon). This includes his most recent writing efforts – District 13: Ultimatum, Taken, and the Transporter and Taxi series – he’s a man who knows what his audience wants. If From Paris with Love is any indication, no one should ever try to replicate his form simply based on an idea.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays James Reece, personal aide to a U.S. Ambassador to France. He lives with his girlfriend Caroline (Kasia Smutniak) with whom he has candlelit rooftop dinners where she proposes one night, bringing to mind the likes of a far worse movie released back in early January. If anyone is not able to figure out the likes of that plot point then they’ve never seen an action movie before.
On this same evening, Reece receives a phone call informing him that he is getting the chance of his life to finally be of assistance to the CIA. He is to be a driver for loose cannon Charlie Wax (John Travolta) who has just arrived in Paris to stop a terrorist attack. Things continually go from bad to worse and Wax goes on an almost non-stop shooting spree from Asian restaurants to the open streets of gay Paris, which is far more than Reece bargained for in his sophomore mission.
Aside from everything being played so over-the-top you wish John Travolta had a ball gag in his mouth to protect the scenery, it doesn’t help when the cast is performing like they’re in a completely different film than what the director is obviously intending to be a hard R-rated thriller. Travolta spews every racially insensitive line delivered with language choices that would make Betty White blush. Meanwhile, Rhys Meyers gets to cower in corners holding vases of cocaine continually questioning Wax’s every move as if they’re in some kind of wacky cop buddy flick.
Travolta may think he’s performing in John Woo mode, but he’s stuck in Hard Target territory. Not to mention that he gets to make a reference to one of his best films (Pulp Fiction) in what winds up as one of his worst. I won’t be the first to say this, but this whole film is a “Royale with cheese.” Unfortunately, royally heavy on the cheese.
Photo courtesy Lionsgate