From Paris With Love

Starring John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Kasia Smutniak. Directed by Pierre Morel.
Rated MA15+ (strong violence and coarse language). 92 mins.

This is an action-thriller film with a twisty and complicated plot. Charlie Wax (John Travolta) plays the part of an unorthodox CIA agent whose job it is to stop terrorists assassinating the US Secretary of State, who is on her way to attend an African peace summit in Paris. Charlie is an American secret agent with no scruples. He likes to kill, and flamboyantly mentors a wary James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who works within the office of the US Ambassador in Paris as a low-level CIA operative. Reese is promoted to team up with Wax and increasingly he is drawn into Wax’s chaotic drug-related world, where Wax takes him on violent, killing sprees. The screen is literally filled with weapons of individual and group destruction, and the plot-line offers only thread-bare justification for their use. The first half of the movie is about the violent dismantling of a drug operation. The real plot, which is about planned terrorism, is not revealed till half-way through the movie, but by then the body count is so large the story-line of the film could go anywhere. Drug chiefs are killed, so too are the Police who come to help, and nearly everyone meets a violent end as Wax impulsively kills anyone he suspects. Borrowing from the title of the Bond-classic, “From Russia with Love”, the movie avoids completely the style of that film, and substitutes in its stead the heady action of Chinese action movies. The romantic interest is supplied mostly by Reese’s fiancée, Carolina (Kasia Smutniak). She is not the person Reese thinks she is.

Travolta is over the top in his characterisation of Wax. He gives his role an almost bizarre, madcap flavour that even exaggerates what we might have seen in movies like “Pulp Fiction”.  Reese bonds to Wax and is stimulated by the excitement of his partnership with him, but he is drawn inevitably to the action of killing, which he hasn’t done before. There is not a great deal of character development all round in this movie. The scripting is poor, and it is the excitement level of the film that aims to carry the day, with nearly all of the action being fuelled by violence. There is no redeeming morality. Violence against others is the order of the day; drugs are a necessary part of staying alive (even of maintaining alertness, as Wax argues); and sex is easy and totally accessible. Women are treated particularly badly in the movie.

For those who like fast action pieces at almost any killing-cost, the movie will entertain. Despite the frenetic pace of the movie, Travolta manages to bring a periodic buzz to his hyper-active role. His moments of madness are punctuated by some moments of sanity as he tries to look after Reese. The action hardly ever stops, but there is originality to some of the action sequences. The car-chasing sequence on the freeways of Paris has some wonderful aerial photo-shots that enhance the drama of the chase. However, the Director of this movie, Pierre Morel, who gave us the intelligent “Taken”, never lets his film rise above Travolta’s exhibitionistic performance.

In what might have been an intelligent action-comedy, the movie goes off the rails as the temptation to “splatter” blood takes over, but it does occasionally achieve a raw edge of excitement. However, cinema-goers should not go to this movie in any way expecting it to be a travelogue of Paris. Most certainly, it is not. 

Hoyts Distribution  Out February 18TH 2010

Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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