From Paris with Love (Lionsgate, R)

fromparis.jpgTravolta is fantastic as the fast-talking, fast-acting special agent who is always happy to bend the rules whenever necessary. Why Travolta feels the need to degrade himself in movies like Old Dogs and Wild Hogs is perplexing, as he is clearly more successful being a badass than anything else.

There are plenty of reasons why From Paris with Love is a subpar movie at best. Critics are going to point out the ubiquitous CGI and stunt-doubling, the weak plot, the terrible one-liners and the unexplained reason John Travolta is dressed like he’s selling weapons in the Middle East. These are all valid criticisms that can’t be ignored, but damn if From Paris with Love isn’t a whole lot of fun!

The movie was directed by Pierre Morel, who also directed last year’s Taken with Liam Neeson. Watching From Paris with Love, I couldn’t help but think that the former was to prove to audiences that Morel is a very talented and competent filmmaker, while the latter is to make a movie that is sheer entertainment and immune from criticism. If anyone is under the mistaken impression that Morel had any intent on making a serious film, watch for Travolta to make a reference to his role in Pulp Fiction. What other purpose would this self-referential line of dialogue serve other than as a wink to the audience that says, “Just go with it. It’ll be more fun that way.

The movie focuses on James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Myers), a personal aide to a U.S. Ambassador in France who is also low-level operative for the CIA. Reece’s dream is to become a full agent and is given the opportunity when he is teamed with Special Agent Charlie Wax (Travolta). While Reece is comfortable operating within the law and following protocol, Wax is more open to alternative methods to accomplish the mission.

The two men begin tearing up Paris in an attempt to stop a very active terrorist cell that is operating through a Chinese drug cartel. In the midst of all the explosions and gunfights, Reece merely attempts to stay alive to make it home to his fiancée, Caroline (Kasia Smutniak). Eventually, Reece realizes that Wax may not be crazy and his methods may sometimes be the only way to get the job done.

Travolta energizes the movie by playing Wax as a man so well-trained and intelligent that he knows calling attention to himself is the best way to throw his enemies off their balance. He is never quiet or subtle so you see him coming from a mile away, but he sees you coming from around the corner a mile away. Travolta is fantastic as the fast-talking, fast-acting special agent who is always happy to bend the rules whenever necessary. Why Travolta feels the need to degrade himself in movies like Old Dogs and Wild Hogs is perplexing, as he is clearly more successful being a badass than anything else.

Morel, with a script by Adi Hasak based on a story by Luc Besson, shows once again how adept he is at staging and filming complicated action scenes while also keeping the plot moving forward. The movie is filled with gunfights, car chases and explosions; more than necessary, really. But that’s the fun of the movie, and Morel is not trying to establish a franchise. Rather, he is trying to prove to audiences that he is as talented as John Woo when it comes to action movies. Matthew F. Newlin

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