From Paris with Love

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.

9 thoughts on “From Paris with Love

  1. Bob

    Not sure what you mean by “It doesn’t help that his physical size drastically lessens his credibility as an action star, especially when he’s running across Parisian rooftops.”

    Travolta, according to IMDB is 6’2″. Assuming that’s not complete BS, are you saying he is too large or too small? Or is he just fat?

  2. Tim Irwin Post author

    His height is not the problem; I wouldn’t doubt that he’s 6’2″. It is rather that he is more rotund than most action stars, and appears a bit chubby. He is always covered in multiple sweatshirts, so if his girth is due to massive muscles he doesn’t get a chance to show them off.

  3. Tim Irwin Post author

    Thanks, tmoney. I’ve been very surprised at the large number of positive or mediocre reviews the film has received. I thought its awfulness would be apparent to everybody.

  4. Everett Engbers

    By looking at the trailer it can easily be discerned that Travolta is bloated. I wish this tired hack would quit the business.

  5. Wombat Colborn

    Mr. Irwin:

    Thank you for posting the link to your review blog on Eric Snider’s page for CINEMATICAL. Whether or not one agrees that the movie is good, bad, or ugly, one might at least opt for an in-depth review that can speak to more than just fans of the genre.

    Snider goes for the “If you don’t like this movie, you just don’t get it”, hit you over the head review. You explain the politics behind the bad guys, how the movie rates against other movies LIKE it, and how the movie rates if you have a brain but don’t particularly feel like dismissing it for the sake of a bad (though possibly entertaining) movie.

    Thanks for holding even a movie that is supposed to be “over-the-top” to some semblance of minimum standards.

    After all, just because a movie CAN be a total mess and get away with it doesn’t mean it should.

  6. Tim Irwin Post author

    Thanks for the comments. It is more fun to write reviews when the films are either dreadful or wonderful. I appreciate movies that are polarizing: make the audience feel something, whether it is revulsion and hatred or wonderment and awe. These are the films that are remembered decades from now (though I probably wouldn’t include “From Paris with Love” in that list).

  7. Stacy

    I am an avid reader of Eric D. Snider but I have to say I agree with your review more this time. Although, I didn’t find Jonathan Rhys Meyers to be grating or irritating. Actually, I thought he was the best part of the movie because he was the only character who I felt for in any way. The movie also wasn’t completely terrible, but definitely below average. I was forgetting it before it was even over. I think it is best described as the Travolta train chugging through Paris mowing people down randomly with a dual message of never date Palistinians and never ask questions before shooting people in the head. It would have been a credit to the movie if Travolta’s character could have been wrong about killing random people at least ONCE!

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