One close shave after another for John Travolta
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Feb. 05, 2010
With love, my eye.
Set in the City of Lights, "From Paris With Love" has as much to do with l'amour as, say, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Maybe less.
Directed with a bang by French filmmaker Pierre Morel ("Taken"), it's the story of trigger-happy CIA veteran Charlie Wax (John Travolta, sporting a shaved head, goatee and earring) and his unlikely junior partner James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a desk jockey who has always dreamed of ditching his cover job at the U.S. Embassy for a career in special ops. Too bad he's never fired a gun.
All that is about to change quickly. No sooner has Charlie arrived in town than he takes James under his beefy wing -- the one that doesn't have a gun in it -- shooting up half the city in what he explains is a mission to take down a French-based drug cartel.
Otherwise, the two don't talk much. Charlie comes in with gun blazing and, for much of the rest of the movie, doesn't stop. After a while I gave up taking notes about the precise nature of havoc wreaked. "Are there any more of them?" James asks after one visit to an apartment building resulting in a particularly high body count. "About a billion," deadpans Charlie.
Charlie shoots people in the face, leg and torso, dumping several of them photogenically down the center of a long spiral staircase at one point. (Trust me: it's kind of a nice shot.) Along the way, he blows up several cars, including his own. The film's best action-movie set piece features him with a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher, leaning out of a speeding car's window as he pursues a Middle Eastern terrorist down a busy Parisian highway.
Terrorist? Turns out the mission isn't really about drugs after all. That will become pretty obvious to anyone after a few minutes, but it takes a while for James to catch on.
For the longest time, the poor sap is forced to tag along after Charlie, balancing a large Chinese vase filled with cocaine, which James thinks is going to be used for evidence, and which Charlie takes a toot from every now and again. Evidence! As if Charlie cared about such niceties. The trail of dead bodies he leaves in his wake is for the gendarmes to clean up. Unless, of course, they also happen to get blown to collateral smithereens.
And yeah, it's all kind of funny, in a smirky, "Pulp Fiction" sort of way. There's even a joke where Charlie confesses to James his addiction to the "Royale with cheese," an insider-y reference to Travolta's "Pulp Fiction" character, Vincent Vega, who famously expounded on the French version of McDonald's Quarter Pounder.
In other words, it's a hyper-violent buddy comedy. If you like that sort of thing -- think "Training Day," with laughs -- you'll love this.
The action is undeniably exciting, though perhaps not recommended for people with pacemakers. The dialogue, by Adi Hasak from a story by Luc Besson, is peppered with catchphrase-ready quips: "Ka-[expletive]-boom," Charlie cracks, after dispensing with his own government-issue SUV via a judiciously placed car bomb.
And Travolta, who turns 56 this month, still makes an appealingly roguish antihero. If the Irish-born Rhys Meyers has to work a little too hard to sound American -- or to geek up his natural sex appeal with bookish glasses -- his paper pusher makes an otherwise effective foil to Charlie's take-no-prisoners super-spy.
By the end of the film, of course, Charlie and James have become so much more than mentor and protege. Not only have they come to respect each other, but they get to bond over that most intimate rite of masculine passage: James's first killing. It's really kind of sweet. And in this testosterone-injected thrill ride, it plays as the kind of deflowering it is.
Come to think of it, maybe this is a love story after all.
Contains nearly constant violence, pervasive obscenity, drug use and brief sexuality.