After last year’s Taken burst onto the scene director Pierre Morel became a hot property. According to IMDb that film took in over $145 million domestically and even more in Europe, so the man had his pick of what to do next. His choice, From Paris with Love, is a miscast mess. Showing off his sizable talents in action movies in both Taken, and his debut feature District B13, Morel should have been a sure bet to take the reigns of this action-buddy comedy, but his previous work was under the watchful eye of his mentor, Luc Besson, who co-wrote and produced both films. With the latest picture it seems like Besson loosened the reigns, giving his protege room to run, but it could be that maybe Morel should have been kept on a shorter leash.
The film stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as James Reece, a low level diplomat at the American Embassy in Paris, and a CIA agent wannabe. When he gets a call from his handler to step up to the big time it is in the form of helping out his new partner, Charlie Wax (John Travolta), a shaven headed death machine with a penchant for Quarter Pounders (though in Paris they are called a Royale with Cheese – Wax’s words not mine). As the Wax/Reese partnership progresses it fumbles through all the requisite steps for a movie of this type; first Reece is annoyed by Wax’s crazy, unorthodox ways, then he sees the method to the madness, and finally becomes one of the initiated into the boy’s club of spy-dom.
One of the best rules of screen writing is to make your villain as interesting, or even more so, than your lead. Since Reece is little more than a one dimensional throw-away it wouldn’t have been too hard, but as it is writer Adi Hasak barely even includes a bad-guy. The scene in which Wax actually describes the duo’s underlying motivation is told through a confusing “drug haze,” lifted directly out of Training Day, and thus it is never clear who they are hunting, or why they doing it. They are just following the trail where it leads them.
Eventually the trail leads back to Reese himself, and his fiance, Caroline (Casia Smutniak). The B-story of their relationship is the only thing that rings a little true toward the beginning of the film, but like everything else here, falls apart somewhere near the midpoint. The conclusion of this subplot is so absurd as to be laughable.
In an attempt to hide the lack of story Hasak tries to overcompensate with Wax’s outlandishness. He swears at customs officials, kills whomever he pleases, snorts coke, and has sex with prostitutes, all in the name of national security. Unfortunately the whole thing is a little too contrived especially with Mr. Clean, John Travolta, trying to pull of the devil-may-car attitude. The “bad-ass secret agent type who doesn’t play by anyone’s rules but his own” is a little trite at this point, and Travolta does little to subvert this.
Rhys Meyers doesn’t fare well either. He has a hard time coming off as believable as an erudite, uptight Ambassador’s aide who plays chess and speaks a bevy of languages. As King Henry VIII on Showtime’s The Tudors his charisma, arguably, may have worked as the petulant, sex-fiend monarch, but in Paris his atrocious American accent is massively distracting.
Almost as distracting is Travolta’s overall look in the film, so much so that it bears pointing out. His shorn head and dark goatee are bizarre to say the least, and Costume Designer Olivier Beroit gussies him up as an emissary from the Ed Hardy Nation complete with an overly tight t-shirt, a couple too many medallions, and a super-bling earring that makes him look more like a pirate than a spy.
To top off Travolta’s sartorial atrocity is a ubiquitous keffiyeh that, due to its symbolism amongst Muslims, could have been included as a way to offset the overtly racist connotations of the third act. When the villain is finally revealed to be a generic terrorist their only explanation for their actions is the conversion to a new “faith” that opened their eyes. The lack of any sort of political or moral convictions leaves one with the only conclusion that Islam was the sole reason for their decision to turn Suicide Bomber.
But the movie really isn’t about politics or men’s fashion, it is supposed to be about kicking butt. Where B13 had the kinetic chaos of parkour, and Taken had Liam Neeson’s stoic determination, Paris feels like Morel just sat back and let it all happen. Since the characters are either uninteresting or wholly unbelievable it is hard to care about anyone, let alone the human targets the Reece and Wax plow through. Most of the fight scenes are blurs of punches and gunfire, though there is one visually interesting sequence in a mannequin factory, which is a little bit too reminiscent of Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss. Other than that the film is filled with little of the promise that Morel showed in his earlier work.
El Luchador Rating: 1 out of 5
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)