Saturday, February 6, 2010

From Paris with Love

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Travolta Takes No Prisoners as Trigger-Happy Spy in High Body-Count Espionage Thriller

A movie with a title like From Paris with Love automatically invites invidious comparisons with From Russia with Love, the James Bond classic based on the Ian Fleming intriguing spy novel of the same name. From Paris is not an adaptation of another Fleming best-seller, but a relatively-bombastic remake which brazenly lifts a few of From Russia’s pivotal plot points though only crediting Luc Besson and Adi Hasak for crafting the screenplay instead of also including the original’s scriptwriters.

For instance, in From Russia, 007 traveled from London to the Soviet embassy in Istanbul to team with a low-level clerk who was unwittingly being played by a duplicitous villainess with a top secret, Cold War agenda. In this suspiciously-similar political potboiler, though it relies on a 21st Century terrorist theme, the CIA dispatches crack Agent Charlie Wax (John Travolta) from D.C. to the American embassy in Paris where he buddies-up with James Reece (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), an ambitious clerk who has previously only been assigned menial tasks like changing diplomats’ license plates. The aspiring spy has just accepted a marriage proposal from his beautiful girlfriend Caroline (Kasia Smutniak), being blissfully unaware of the fey femme fatale’s mysterious link to the Middle East.

Before the cozy couple barely has a chance toast their engagement, the grateful groom-to-be finds himself deputized by his new partner and drawn away to participate in a sting operation ostensibly aimed at the cocaine dealer responsible for the drug overdose of the Secretary of Defense’s daughter. During the ensuing, ever-escalating series of bloody stakeouts, trigger-happy Charlie exhibits none of the charm, subtlety or elegance we’ve come to associate with sophisticated espionage work.

A plausible explanation is revealed by the fact that From Paris with Love was directed by Pierre Morel, a purveyor of such riveting, over-the-top, high body-count adventures as Taken and District B-13. To the extent that you are a big fan of that sort of splatter fare, your bloodlust is apt to be satiated by the reliably-grisly goings-on he serves up again here. However, because of Travolta’s tendency towards supercilious bravado, again and again his cartoonish antics undercut any tension the production endeavors to generate.

An almost infantile Ugly American with access to an infinite supply of live ammo, misbehaving like the proverbial bull in a china closet.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for graphic violence, pervasive profanity, drug use and brief sexuality.
In English and French with subtitles.
Running time: 92 Minutes
Distributor: Lionsgate Films

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