From Paris with Love (2010): France – directed by Pierre Morel
Rated R by the MPAA – contains violence, some blood, constant profanity, some sexual content, utter stupidity, and naked mannequins
It appears that Pakistanis are officially the new Russians. For years following the fall of the Soviet Union the movie industry was unsure who to blame for the world’s terrorist acts. With 9/11 it became both clearer and more ambiguous: the dark, nation-less, bearded man was inevitably a jihadist terrorist intent on the destruction of America. Now, with From Paris with Love, these terrorists have a country.
At the same time, the man who made Léon has fallen a long way. Luc Besson is credited with writing and producing From Paris with Love, though perhaps Alan Smithee would have been better off taking the “credit.” John Travolta attempts to return to Pulp Fiction form in what will surely end up being one of the worst films of 2010.
The trailer for the film was a disaster in its own right, with odd editing that made it painfully obvious that each sentence Travolta utters ends in profanity. Expanding the trailer to a mind numbing 92 minutes, the film merely gets more offensive and stupid as it nears the end.
James Reece (an irritating, grating, smirking Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is the assistant to the U.S. ambassador to France. He’s incredibly intelligent, a great chess player, and has a mind for mundane details. He’s also an undercover spy, but the most action he sees involves changing license plates for the real agents. At home he’s got a loving French girlfriend (Kasia Smutniak). She’s beautiful and understanding of Reece’s job, which often requires him to be away at odd hours.
His long awaited chance for a promotion finally comes: one last job to earn his place in “the club.” He must get his oddball partner through French customs and drive him around Paris, assisting him in whatever way he requires. Unfortunately, his partner, Charlie Wax (Travolta), is a psychopath, and soon the pair of them are blasting their way through Paris, supposedly on the tail of drug runners. As they get closer to the source of the drugs they discover a complex string of terrorists hellbent on suicide bombing everyone.
The plot is unoriginal, but in the right hands might possibly have provided a standard action/thriller. In this case, every aspect of the production fails. The dialogue varies from standard and conventional to cheesy and painful. The action scenes vacillate between kinetic and confusing to overwrought ripoffs of classic Hong Kong films (or Besson’s work from the early 1990’s). Every effort is made to paint Wax as a kindly super-spy who just happens to enjoy killing the bad guys. Every attempt to give him depth falls flat; even a couple direct nods to Pulp Fiction come off as sycophantic. Travolta’s character is hackneyed and about as subtle as a nuclear war. It doesn’t help that his physical size drastically lessens his credibility as an action star, especially when he’s running across Parisian rooftops.
The audience’s reaction to Travolta’s antics, and the body count he racks up, was raucous, as if everyone was ecstatic to see him out of a dress again. Their laughter at every Chinese and Pakistani villain he shoots only served to rile up a certain piece of my soul, causing me to guffaw loudly and clap when he finally shoots an innocent-seeming woman in the head with no warning. But I’m not sure what was more disconcerting; the audience’s laughter, to a point, at the mindless violence, or the movie’s own stupidity in dealing with its “themes.” A terribly cheesy ending, made worse in its efforts to make a point about the honor of nonviolence, is harmed by absurdly stylish directing and music.
There is not much good about this film. I suppose that in a few years a group of friends might sit down to watch it on DVD (or Blu-Ray) and enjoy making fun of the violence and stupidity. It certainly does not deserve to be on the big screen, and is a blot on the resumes of all involved. A coda after the climax makes it painfully obvious that there will be sequels if the film has a large enough opening weekend. Let us hope it does not come to that.