From Paris with Love (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

From Paris with Love (2010)

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ANDREW LIKEIt’s a bit more difficult to notice when someone is going through a mid-life crisis in Hollywood.  A lot of the indicators that we use for the middle age, fast cars and so on, are par for the course instead of a sudden alteration in behavior.  So we have to look to other sources, and look for signs that aren’t readily apparent.  I would like to enter John Travolta’s recent films, including today’s From Paris with Love, as evidence that the man is wrestling with his mortality.  What  a stroke of luck that he happens to be an invincible superman in a brisk and entertaining flick.

Before we get to Travolta’s antics Paris introduces basement level CIA operative James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) into the mix.  He carries out small assignments for the Agency office in France and dreams of hitting it big.  I like the way that Paris plays with his inexperience in the earlier scenes.  He’s not quite up to action movie star levels of excitement and is given menial tasks akin to sticking a piece of gum underneath a desk.  It was a bit refreshing that James can’t even do this properly since human error is going to be in short supply the rest of the film.

After Operation Gum Drop is a success James is offered an opportunity to work with Senior CIA Agent Charlie Wax (Travolta).  His first assignment - secure Charlie’s freedom and cans of his favorite energy drink from the French authorities at the airport.  Not quite the sort of assignment heavy on espionage that you’d expect from the CIA, but this is “ movie CIA”.  If you don’t know they exist you’re sure to be reminded with a giant explosion sometime in the first five minutes of film.

These events end up getting tied into a master plot involving a terrorist attack whose details would spoil the plot (though it was hilarious when the movie slowed to a halt when the word terrorism is uttered).  But well thought out plots are a bit of a rarity in movies like this.  Paris doesn’t really provide much to alter the course of action movie history and mostly sets up each sequence as a checkpoint to the next action scene.  There are no steps taken to utilize it’s setting and could have been interchanged with any number of locations.  But since Luc Besson had his hands in the production as a co-writer and producer I suppose he gets to pick the stomping grounds.  It’s only fair.

A couple of years back director Pierre Morel had a surprise hit with Taken, starring similarly aged Liam Neeson, which suffers from a lot of the same problems as Paris.  But it seems as though Mr. Morel has learned a lesson or two in his break and learned to have some damned fun with the material.  The action scenes have a lot of energy and actually take some time to establish location before jumping straight into the gun-play.  Each one of them has a particularly fun twist as well.  A well utilized fire pole in the middle of a living room gets a twisty workout in the middle of one tense moment and a hilarious dinner with James’ fiancee’ (Kasia Smutniak) has an unusual payoff.  It’s a far cry from the dour sex-trade world of Taken and I’m pretty damned grateful for it.

What both films have in common is a  strong central performance from an unexpected source.  Travolta is no stranger to action movies but this is the first proper action role he’s had in thirteen years and there is absolutely no sign that he’s getting creaky.  Sporting a freshly shaved head and sharply angled goatee he smirks his way into trouble and dominates the screen with his frame.  It almost seems like another round of stunt casting a la Hairspray but as is the case with that film, it really works.  He and Rhys Meyers play off of each other very well and manage to sidestep a lot of the groan inducing moments that burden most movie partnerships.

If there’s one thing that really bothers me about the film it’s the way that it plays on Travolta’s former successes.  He’s never been the greatest actor but in the right role he can be a lot of fun.  However, Paris marks the fourth Travolta movie  I’ve seen that plays off of Pulp Fiction.  To be fair, I realize that Pulp Fiction is one of those “important” films that trudge on through history but reminding your audience that they could be watching something else is a bit suicidal.  It stalls the momentum and keeps your attention away from what is happening onscreen to what could be there instead.

As as a breather from some of life’s more socially potent diversions it does it's job and then some.  There’s enough life in the film for me to recommend it to fans of action movies and for those that are curious about how Travolta is holding up (husky and chipper).  Personally, if it means moving away from movies that celebrate mediocrity I’m all for it.  So here’s to you Mr. Travolta, keep up the lie as long as you can.

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From Paris with Love (2010)

Directed by Pierre Morel
Written by Adi Hasak and Luc Besson.
Starring John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Kasia Smutniak.

Posted by Andrew

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