From Paris With Love
2010, R, 92 min. Directed by Pierre Morel. Starring John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak, Richard Durden.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 12, 2010
Anyone suffering from the dubious notion that all French people hate Americans and their gauche culture would be well-advised to take a gander at the films of director Morel (District 13, Taken) and his producer Luc Besson (the Transporter franchise, Ong-bak). There are few greater proponents of the American form of mindless film violence and flash-without-substance storytelling. A clear example in From Paris With Love comes midway into the film’s admittedly well-choreographed mayhem as the gun-crazy operative Charlie Wax (Travolta) exasperatedly explains to his new partner, James Reece (Rhys Meyers), the reasons for all the corpses piling up around them: “It’s about terrorists,” Wax declares, ending Reece’s illusion they’re chasing cocaine traffickers. Nothing more than those three words needs to be said; the film, with no further explanation of motives, nationalities, beliefs, or backstories, suddenly gets a free pass into the kill-or-be-killed zone. It’s primary and elemental and has none of that French philosophical dross mucking up the film’s astronomical body count. For Travolta, the role again shows his daring as a shape-shifting physical commodity (Hairspray and Battlefield Earth are other prime examples) and his acquiescence to portraying over-the-top wack jobs (The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Swordfish). His Wax is a U.S. government black-ops guy who has a shaved head, a love of firearms, a taste for coke and women, and professional infallibility. On his Paris mission, he is teamed with Reece, an American embassy functionary who longs for more responsibilities and excitement. At first it seems Reece will be nothing but a glorified errand boy, tailing behind Wax while lugging around a Chinese vase full of evidential cocaine, but by movie’s end even he would probably thrill to the sight of Wax taking aim with a bazooka while hanging out of the window of a fast-moving vehicle. The actors make a good duo: Rhys Meyers with a methodical steadiness and Travolta with the character’s maniacal unpredictability. From Paris With Love is their show all the way. The film is so self-referencing, however, that a running gag about Wax/Travolta craving a “royale with cheese” moves the film’s energy backward rather than forward. Perhaps instead it was a reference to the film’s nutritional value rather than its screen precedents.