Title: From Paris With Love
Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller
Play time: 1
Director: Pierre Morel
Screenwriters: Adi Hasak
Starring: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak
John Travolta, God bless him, has never been much of an action hero. With his wide physique and lumbering gait, he’s not built for it. This is not to say that he hasn’t been an undeniable badass on screen — certainly he has (see Pulp Fiction, Swordfish, his collaborations with John Woo). It’s just that his badassery is more verbal than overtly physical. For his characters, killing you would be an insufferable bother — and generally unnecessary. Most of the time a glare will do.
Which is what makes From Paris With Love — in which 55 year-old Travolta plays Charlie Wax, a trigger-happy, acrobatically ass-kicking spy superhero — so much fun, at least in bursts. It’s jarring to see the big lug unleash a flurry of brute force that effortlessly downs dozens of bad guys (granted, with the help of stuntmen and some editing sleight-of-hand), but it’s also delightful: sort of like watching Michael Jordan play professional baseball. Combine the actor’s newfound penchant for mayhem with his trademark profane insouciance and verbal intimidation, and you have yourself a pretty darn competent action superspy.
For all its slam-bang action fireworks (“come to daddy,” Travolta purrs when his driver produces a rocket launcher in a moment of need), From Paris With Love is a buddy comedy at heart. It actually has the most crucial ingredient of a good buddy comedy down, insofar as it supplies the entertaining pairing of Travolta’s devil-may-care Wax and Reece, a hesitant, laughably uptight Ambassador’s aide played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. It’s almost worth paying for a ticket just to see the panicked look on Reece’s face when Wax suddenly starts snorting coke at the Eiffel Tower.
There’s some good stuff here, then, and a lot of potential. The problem is that From Paris With Love makes no freakin’ sense — and most of the time feels like it isn’t even trying. Wax and Reece have to stop some terrorists, who are Asian, from doing something, for some reason. Reece’s girlfriend may be implicated. There’s also a drug ring involved, and Reece spends half the movie toting a large porcelain vase full of cocaine around Paris. This kind of movie doesn’t need much: a simple, goofy story, a clear mission, a fun bad guy, and you’re there. From Paris With Love is aggressively nonsensical. It’s like a cookie that crumbles before you can put it in your mouth.
Director Pierre Morel made last year’s fantastic Taken, and he knows how to shoot an action scene and create hurtling momentum. Unfortunately, in this case, his movie hurtles toward nothing and in no particular direction. At my screening, the ending was met with hoots of derisive laughter from a preview audience that was primed for a good time. Silly is one thing; completely arbitrary is another.
Travolta is the draw here, along with the fitfully funny dialogue, and some fish-out-of-water fun with Rhys Meyers. But From Paris With Love is so monomaniacally focused on its own surface it’s virtually anti-narrative. If it weren’t so hollow, you could call it avant-garde.