I didn't expect much from From Paris With Love the latest film directed by Pierre Morel (Taken) co-starring John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in what amounts to a nonsensical, ridiculous, over-the-top and completely impractical action thriller with ample doses of comedy strewn about for good measure.
I got more than I expected.
Now then, there's no way one could say that From Paris With Love is a brilliant film. There's nothing brilliant about the film, with the possible exception of Travolta's performance of the freakishly insane Charlie Wax, an absolutely never by the books CIA operative paired up with a low-level operative/Aide to the US Ambassador to France played like a wimpish twin to Ethan Hawke by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (August Rush). Rhys Meyers' James Reece is the anti-Charlie Wax, a wannabe operative who has largely been resigned to relatively trivial odd jobs before being hooked up with the off-the-cuff Wax.
It seems a rather odd observation, but it's worth nothing than in this non-stop action, let's kill everybody thriller Travolta is livelier, funnier and infinitely more entertaining than in his last film, the abysmal family comedy "Old Dogs." Before we're halfway through From Paris With Love, the body count is in the dozens and Wax has taken us from what seems like a drug war into the war against terrorism while taking out a bunch of bad guys, mostly Asians and Arabs, and we top it all off with a revelation about the seemingly sublime life of James Reece and his stunning girlfriend Caroline (Kasia Smutniak).
Nothing is as it seems and nothing that is makes an iota of sense.
If you're looking for a film that follows logic or reason or intellect, stay far away from From Paris With Love, however, if you're able to go with the flow and surrender to the silliness of it all then this flick may very well be a delightful diversion away from Cameron's cinematic excess and this film's schmaltzy co-opener this weekend, Dear John.
By now, you're already likely aware that Travolta's Charlie Wax sports a shaven head, a killer goatee and a sparkle in his eye that twinkles brightly with every ridiculously over-the-top sticky situation. Travolta's performance exhibits that same jive talkin' bravado that turned him back into an A-lister after Pulp Fiction, a film that itself gets a bit of a tribute during a rather tongue-in-cheek scene likely to cause a chuckle or two among Pulp Fiction devotees. Travolta is clearly enjoying himself and, unlike what happened in "Old Dogs," the audience is enjoying Travolta.
Playing against type, the Irish born Rhys Meyers portrays a chess playing, methodical young man from the Bronx who seems like he's more apt to grow up to be an Inspector Clouseau than a Charlie Wax. While there are moments in From Paris With Love where Rhys Meyers seems a tad out of his element, especially in those moments that require Reece to be a rather sensitive soul, he manages to convincingly sell himself as a rather awkward young man who is remarkably ill-equipped when he's called into major service. He spends much of the film carrying around a rather large vase full of blow, and it's to Rhys Meyers' credit that his performance manages to shine brighter than that big ole' vase of blow.
From Paris With Love lacks the emotional power and resonance of Taken, Morel's last film, an exceedingly violent film that had the benefit of a storyline involving a father protecting his daughter. From Paris With Love, on the other hand, is essentially a CIA action thriller with your rather run-of-the-mill buddy flick angle attached to it. It's Travolta and, to a lesser degree Rhys Meyers, that turn From Paris With Love into a surprisingly entertaining and satisfying experience.
Michel Abramowicz's camera work is generally solid, though a little less of the handheld camera work would have been nice. Jacques Bufnoir's production design captures the grittier side of Paris, a decidedly non-romanticized look at the city of love. David Buckley's original score nicely complements the film's slinging back and forth between action and absurdity.
Among the supporting players, Polish actress Kasia Smutniak particularly shines as Caroline. Within the film's opening minutes, the relationship between Reece and Caroline feels rich and authentic as we wind our way through where this journey is going to take them.
From Paris With Love isn't a particularly brilliant film and, in fact, certain scenes land with a complete thud. However, given Morel's gift for pacing and action and the snappy dialogue of co-writers Luc Besson and Adi Hasak, From Paris With Love may very well be the film that finally knocks Avatar from the #1 spot at the box-office this week.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic