Luc Besson action movies are pretty predictable: loud, gratuitous violence punctuated by an out of left field attempt at a sappy message. “From Paris with Love”, the latest product from the Luc Besson School of Action Moviemaking™ is no exception. You’re not going to find a whole lot of substance here, and plot logic, well, you can pretty much forget about that, too. Luc Besson-written films have never really made much sense, and “Paris” doesn’t even pretend like it’s trying to buck the trend.
Directed by Pierre Morel, who found success last year with the surprise hit “Taken”, “From Paris with Love” stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as James Reece, a low-level spook working at the U.S. Embassy in Paris. Reece has a beautiful girlfriend name Caroline (pronounced “Caro-leen”), played by French beauty Kasia Smutniak, who he willy nilly tells all his secrets to. And while he has a pretty good life in the city of lights, Reece pines for more from his job. He gets his chance when the agency sends over super badass spy Charlie Wax (John Travolta) to deal with a matter of extreme urgency. In the course of one night, Wax takes the by-the-books Reece through one gunfight after another, racking up the bodies like he’s trying to start his own cemetery. And then day two rolls around…
The main bad guys of “From Paris with Love” are Middle Eastern terrorist types, but honestly, you’d be hard pressed to know anything about them or their cause because the second we are introduced to them, Wax kills them. Wax kills a lot of people. It’s all very silly and cartoony, and Wax simply waltzes through the movie shooting, stabbing, and blowing people up at will. If Liam Neeson in Morel’s “Taken” killed half of Paris to get his daughter back, Travolta’s character in “Paris” has taken care of the remaining half, and then some. The sheer number of dead bodies that Morel and screenwriter Adi Hasak (from a story by Luc Besson) throws at the screen is astounding. After a while, the sheer volume of dead bad guys becomes almost obscene.
There’s nothing original about “From Paris with Love”, from the characters to the situations to the little stabs at comedy that the film occasionally indulges in. Reece is your clichéd by-the-book cop (a spook in this case), and Wax is your typical loose cannon who gets the job done. Plot logic has no place in a movie like this, and last-second revelations come out of nowhere with little to no sense. Fortunately I had expected all of this, and truthfully, wasn’t too disappointed when the film failed to prove me wrong. The name “Luc Besson” in the credits have come to mean something completely different from his days on films like “La Femme Nikita” and “The Fifth Element”, which is, admittedly, kind of sad if you think about it too much, so try not to.
The film’s main draw is of course John Travolta, who makes the best of a measly script. Charlie Wax is funny, brutally violent, and if this was the real world, you would label him something of a sociopath. But since this is a movie, Charlie Wax is the hero we’d want watching our back. Meyers’ Reece eventually proves his mettle as a sidekick to Wax, but for much of the film he’s relegated to playing Jimmy Olsen to Wax’s Superman. Probably the most disappointing part of “From Paris with Love” is Pierre Morel, who seems to have forgotten how to choreograph exciting action scenes post-“Taken”. There were a couple of nifty fight scenes in “Taken”, but the gunfights in “Paris” are pretty much of the (literally, in some cases) point-and-shoot variety. I get the feeling Morel might have directed “Paris” purely as a favor to Besson before making his move to Hollywood, and really didn’t have much enthusiasm for the project. If that’s the case, it shows.
In so many ways, “From Paris with Love” met all of my expectations. Unfortunately, the threshold was pretty low, so I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not. To its credit, the film is rarely boring, though the repetitive nature of Wax walking into a scene and killing everybody, and repeat, did start to get a bit tedious after a while. But with its short running time and no-frills screenwriting, “From Paris with Love” works as a breezy, convoluted mess of an action movie. In short, it’s another successful product from the Luc Besson School of Action Moviemaking™. I’ll leave that up to you to decide if that’s a good thing.
Pierre Morel (director) / Adi Hasak (screenplay), Luc Besson (story)
CAST: John Travolta … Charlie Wax
Jonathan Rhys Meyers … James Reece
Kasia Smutniak … Caroline
Richard Durden … Ambassador Bennington