Mark Reviews Movies


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Pierre Morel

Cast: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak, Richard Durden, 

MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, drug content, pervasive language and brief sexuality)

Running Time: 1:32

Release Date: 2/5/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 4, 2010

The boss tells him that the special agent the bureau has sent in has methods that are "a bit unorthodox." We've heard this joke of understatement so many times that it means nothing. By the time we hear it in From Paris with Love, Charlie Wax (John Travolta) has sat down at a Chinese restaurant, held a gun to the waiter's head, killed all the goons who are protecting the eatery's cover, shot holes in the ceiling until it rains cocaine, and filled up a vase full of the powder for leverage later on.

The best thing to be said then about this energetic but ultimately formulaic espionage thriller is that Wax deserves the "unorthodox methods" joke. The movie is in the same vein of a Bond vehicle, focusing on stunts, firefights, and the occasional gadget (The title's locale-changing homage to 007's second outing implies that the link is intentional), with an Unlikely Partner dynamic thrown in for good measure. It's Wax's off-the-rails, crazy but focused attitude that gives From Paris with Love enough personality to carry it through until its standard, cookie-cutter climax.

His new partner is James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an assistant to the American ambassador at the US Embassy in Paris. Reece has been doing odd jobs for a mysterious government intelligence agency, like replacing license plates and planting bugs. His performance has been so good that the boss gives him a new mission: Be Wax's driver.

Reece doesn't do any driving, but he does follow Wax along as the operative trails a path from the cocaine to a terrorist cell to a plot to bomb some delegation group at some place. It's all pretty much irrelevant, and Wax doesn't even fill in Reece with pesky little things like details but does lie about his reasoning most of the time.

The Wax character is sneaky customer. He tells Reece the cocaine was responsible for a government official's daughter's death. It wasn't, but Wax knows that a stand-up guy like Reece wouldn't ever imagine dragging along a vase full of cocaine to use as a bargaining chip. At least with this story, Reece thinks he might, possibly be doing the right thing. Maybe.

Wax does a first-rate job playing the rebel, taking Reece to a house of ill repute—where his fiancée (Kasia Smutniak) spots him, leading him to hold a German tourist at gunpoint for his cell phone charger—seemingly only for pleasure until we realize it's all business.

Travolta is in fine form as Wax, carefree and matter-of-fact with his profession, joking about killing a person an hour since he met Reece. There's the air of a smooth professionalism to his every, sometimes enigmatic action.

Speaking of which, director Pierre Morel handles the shoot-outs with a kinetic energy that turns into chaos. He chops his action sequences so rapidly that it's nearly impossible to tell what's happening amidst the muzzle flashes, falling bodies, and flying blood. There's a moment in which Wax dives headfirst down a fireman's pole in the terrorists' apartment hideout that's impressive, and while there might be other similar moments somewhere within the editing bedlam, it would be tough to find them. The result is sequences that work to a degree in the moment but are entirely forgettable in passing.

Still, Wax's approach to international espionage propels us through a typical plot, until Reece takes focus as the terrorists' plot unravels. Reece, as the requisite partner, serves as a moral compass—not for Wax, mind you, whose own standards are set in stone, but for us. Wax does what he needs to do without question or second-thought, while Reece laments the carnage.

Is the juxtaposition of a straight-laced conscionable accomplice really necessary? Once we move away from Wax, Reece's dilemma of being betrayed by someone close to him turns the movie into a standard thriller. Wax's unique tactic are sidestepped for a ordinary car chase (until he pulls out a rocket launcher), while Reece races to stop a bomb, hindered by security and ultimately reaching a standoff with his betrayer that doesn't have the punch it needs.

I'm wondering if the intention of From Paris with Love is to create a franchise for Charlie Wax. He's an intriguing enough character, and if so, it might allow him to do his thing outside of the buddy system. The movie here is almost passable, but remember, even Bond's first cinematic adventure isn't worth much more than an introduction to the character. Like Bond, maybe another movie could get Wax on track as well.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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