Sunday, February 7, 2010


This disposable but stylish contemporary action thriller set in exotic Paris, France, casts John Travolta as a 1980’s type trigger-happy, quick-witted, jive-talking secret agent for the U.S. Government who shoots first and asks questions later. Travolta looks ultra-cool with his noggin neatly shaved like Blofield, the iconic villain from the James Bond franchise, and he handles firearms of every variety with the skill of Wild Bill Hickok in a shooting gallery. Travolta has not capped this many bad guys since he made the John Woo thriller "Broken Arrow" in 1996. Mind you, Travolta was the bad guy in “Broken Arrow,” while he plays the front and center hero in this explosive Lionsgate release. Unfortunately, "From Paris with Love" surpasses neither "Broken Arrow" nor the other shoot’em up saga he made with John Woo entitled "Face/Off." Furthermore, "From Paris With Love" (*** out of ****) does not top "Swordfish" for sheer audacity. Nevertheless, this nimble 95-minute buddy picture qualifies as a good beer and pizza picture. After you watch “From Paris With Love,” you can talk about how cheesy but cool it was over beer and pizza.

"Taken" director Pierre Morel rarely takes pit stops for garrulous dialogue interludes in this adrenaline-laced, serio-comic, big, dumb actioneer about terrorists. The chief problem with “From Paris with Love” is the absence of an intimidating villain who tries to triumph over the heroes. Indeed, the villain is crafty, but the hero’s apprentice has little difficulty removing the villain as a threat at fade-0ut. The next problem is the heroes save the day, but the day seems inconsequential when it consists of anonymous diplomats at a U.S./African Aid Summit in Paris with no important world leaders exposing themselves as targets. Despite these shortcomings, Travolta hams everything up with exhilarating abandon. He looks like he had a blast playing a hopelessly over-the-top hero who has a Steven Seagal knack for triumphing over multiple villains at close quarters. Watch the way that our hero dispatches a gang of street hooligans with his bare hands. The message of this fast-paced, but predictable bullet-riddled melodrama is that you cannot reason with terrorists. Don’t talk to a terrorist. Blast the idiot! The outlandish Travolta protagonist spends the entire time trying to hammer this strategy into the head of his new, inexperienced partner. Basically, “From Paris With Love” resembles those vintage westerns where the old gunfighter teaches the new gunfighter just enough to survive. Travolta indoctrinates his na├»ve apprentice in the secrets of being a secret agent with a license to kill.

As “From Paris With Love” opens, an efficient, well-dressed Embassy Assistant to the American Ambassador, James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers of "The Tudors"), carries out several low-profile assignments on the cuff for U.S. Intelligence. Reese swaps out license plates on a car in an underground garage and later plants a bug a high-ranking French diplomat’s office. When the gum he chews doesn’t keep the bug stuck in place under a table, Reese lingers a moment after everybody else has left to staple the micro-sized listening device to the furniture. “From Paris with Love” chronicles Reese’s journey-of-hardship from an errand boy to a top gun. Apparently, pleased with his performance, U.S. Intel summons Reese ‘on short notice’ and promise to make him an agency spook if he can cut some red tape at French customs so a bearded, bald-headed operative, Charlie Wax (John Travolta of “Old Dogs”), can enter the country. Moments before he meets Charlie, Reese became engaged to his girlfriend Caroline (Kasia Smutniak of "Radio West"), who likes to turn up in the strangest places. Since Reese is constantly on the run, Caroline gives him her father’s ring and proposes marriage. The catch is that he cannot remove the ring. Once Reese turns Wax loose, “From Paris with Love” never wanes.

Our heroes visit a Chinese restaurant where a large stash of cocaine is concealed in the attic, but the holes that Charlie puts into the ceiling cannot rival all the holes that he puts into the staff that charge him wielding submachine guns. A running sight gag for a while is that Reese has to tote around a vase filled with a large amount of white powder that Charlie discovered after he blew those holes in the ceiling of the Chinese restaurant. Our heroes blast their way into the underworld of narcotics smugglers and later terrorists who prefer to blast themselves to their Kingdom Come after they have wiped out everybody around them. One terrorist who refuses to face justice takes a gun and blows himself away. “From Paris With Love” boasts two singular scenes. The first follows Reese as he ascends a spiral staircase after Wax has scrambled up it. The corpses of Wax’s adversaries that Wax shot plunge down the spiral stairs. Some tumble past Reese as he climbs the stairs. You only see the falling bodies, not the bloody bullet holes that turned them into Unidentified Falling Objects. Later, intrepid Charlie pursues a villain trying to escape across the rooftops of Paris, and Charles’ method of pursuit is unusual. Mind you, nobody should try to duplicate it.

Based on a story by Luc Besson of "The Transporter" trilogy, "From Paris With Love" unfolds as a formulaic, non-stop, high-octane actioneer with explosions, gunfire, and corpses galore. "Shadow Conspiracy" scenarist Adi Hasak piles on one preposterous incident after another as Chinese cocaine smugglers and Arabic terrorist suicide bombers collaborate in a fantasy that could only have been cooked up in the Bush White House to slaughter government officials at an African trade mission. Wow, if only terrorists were as foolhardy as they are depicted in “From Paris With Love,” the war on terror would be a picnic. Anybody who enjoys this kind of violent nonsense will figure out what the three surprises are that ensue at intervals. One surprise is purely visceral, while another is telegraphed earlier. Above all, Morel orchestrates the gunfights with flair, and Paris looks as scenic as ever.