Saturday, February 6, 2010
In 2008, “Taken” was a surprise hit at the box office and it marked the American feature debut of French cinematographer-turned-director Pierre Morel. Now he directs “From Paris With Love” (opening February 5 throughout San Diego) and will wait to see if lightening will strike twice at the box office.
Pierre Morel caught my eye when he directed the kick ass French actioner “District B13.” That film showcased the extreme running or free running known as parkour as well as a pair of incredibly fit stuntmen-turned-actors. The film was a jaw-dropping action fun ride (with the sequel opening next week at Reading Gaslamp Stadium 15 Theaters). But neither “Taken” nor the new “From Paris With Love” has been able to capture that same energy and freewheeling sense of fun.
All three of these films have been written by Luc Besson, who seems to almost single-handedly be keeping the French film industry financially alive. Besson is a genre filmmaker and when he directs his own scripts (“Leon/The Professional,” “Le Femme Nikita”) he delivers wild genre films with an over-the-top style that plays up the improbabilities rather than trying to disguise them. Hollywood films rarely manage to do that. They waste all sorts of time on exposition and feebly trying to explain why we should buy into their story and that only makes the improbabilities stand out even more.
“From Paris With Love” inches toward embracing the absurdities, much more than the more sober-minded “Taken” but far less that the rebellious “District B13.” The premise for “From Paris With Love” is basically the classic odd couple formula. Loose cannon Charlie Wax (John Travolta with a Mr. Clean makeover and pirate earring) is paired up with desk jockey James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) in order to fight terrorists in Paris. Wax is a spy; Reece is an ambassador’s assistant with aspirations to rise higher. Needless to say Wax is out of control and Reece keeps trying to rein him in. But of course Wax is also highly adept at his job of killing people and Reece proves a somewhat fast learner.
The film’s only saving grace is its action scenes. Morel, who showed us that he knew how to choreograph action in “District B13,” knows how to make fights look cool on film and how to drop bodies down lovely spiral staircases. Unfortunately the action keeps getting interrupted by lame dialogue and annoying plot exposition. The people in this film should simply keep their mouths shut and not talk, like a hooker during sex. I mean play to your strengths, not your weaknesses. And the talking slows the film down. It’s well under 2 hours but feels longer. The other thing making the film feel long is that everything is telegraphed so you know pretty much exactly where the film is going and yet it takes longer than it needs to get there. So either it needed to me more clever or picked up the pace.
Travolta goes into manic mode to play Wax and he’s given his fair share of quickie one-liners to entertain the crowd. He’s having fun, but probably more fun than those of us in the audience. I preferred his manic energy in John Woo’s “Face/Off.” Rhys Meyers is acceptable as Reece but he doesn’t quite sell the character.
I'm willing to forgive a lot in an action film if it at least delivers some kick ass action. "From Paris With Love" delivers the occasional fun moment but not enough to provide full dispensation for the films other flaws.
“From Paris With Love” (rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, drug content, pervasive language and brief sexuality) is even more mindless than “Taken” and is more fun than the recent “Edge of Darkness.” But that still leaves it lagging far behind Morel’s “District B13.” Too bad Morel took these Hollywood gigs rather than signing on for the sequel to “District B13,” which is opening next week at Reading Gaslamp Stadium 15. I just got my press screener for that film and am looking forward to it as a good palate cleanser.
Companion viewing: “Face/Off,” “District B13,” “Charade”