From Paris With Love (Lions Gate; 95 minutes; R; widescreen; 2010). French auteur Luc Besson, best known for The Professional, The Fifth Element and La Femme Nikita,
is such a cultish icon among the action-movie crowd that practically
any storyline he hatches gets greenlighted as a major production. Of
course he’s also a founder of EuropaCorp, the company that bankrolled From Paris With Love,
which is driven by a plot that could have been written on the back of a
matchbook and still have room for a few ladies’ phone numbers.
While working at the U.S. Embassy in
Paris, ambassador aide James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) has to take
time away from canoodling with his cute fiancee Caroline (Kasia
Smutniak) when he is assigned to partner up with CIA agent Charlie Wax
(John Travolta) for a secret assignment. But Charlie is anything but
secret, as he does things loud and proud with an ugly American swagger.
The bald, ear-ringed, foulmouthed boor goes off from the get-go when
he’s caught smuggling energy drinks past Customs officials, then turns
into a bull in a china shop—or more accurately, a Chinese restaurant—as
he transforms the eatery into a shooting gallery.
So begins this diverting, bullet-riddled
action-comedy buddy flick, with plausibility taking a hike early on
(having Travolta’s Wax slide down a firepole upside down while blasting
away bad guys will do that) and mirthful mayhem as the drawing card. At
least Besson and scriptwriter Adi Hasak have come up with a plot twist
that’s better left not dwelled upon yet adds some surprising emotional
heft to this body counter’s final half-hour—before it climaxes, of
course, with a manly metaphoric image of whose gun is bigger.
From Paris With Love is being promoted as “from the director of Taken,”
and sure enough Pierre Morel is again orchestrating the various chases
and explosions, albeit with a more scruffy, in-your-face approach
(Morel also handled this film’s Steadicam operation) instead of the
sleek sense of style which permeated that aforementioned Liam Neeson
box-office bonanza. Yet Morel manages to generate some welcome
chemistry between his odd-couple leads, and he also gets laughs from a
series of black-comedy sight gags, like Reese having to dodge the dead
hooligans disposed by Wax as they head up a circular stairwell. A
running gag has Rhys Meyers forced to constantly embrace a huge vase
filled with cocaine (an image that recalls the potted plant from The Professional), and the actor manages to remain delightfully flummoxed by the ultra-silly incongruity.
The script also catalogs a host of
deliberate, guess-which-movie clichés, such as Travolta’s jive-talkin’
CIA guy demanding that the phrase “Wax on, Wax off” should be employed,
and even savoring a mouth-watering moment when he digs into a Royale
with cheese. The star, who hasn’t trashed it up this much since Swordfish,
brings a confident sense of guilty pleasure to this rowdy, Saturday
night time killer. Travolta knows he’s stepped into a big pile of movie
merde and he’s pretty damn gleeful about it.