Sunday, March 07, 2010

From Paris With Love

Year: 2010
Director: Pierre Morel
Cast: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak, Richard Durden

It's been a while since buddy cop action flicks were made. I'm guessing it's because either there have been too many of them, or they simply ran out of style. I mean, how many versions of 48 Hrs, Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour can they make?

Formula is always the same: Pair two people together. They must be absolutely different from each other. They must always start on the wrong foot, but in the end they become best friends. And witty dialogue is essential.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome From Paris With Love, a new action film that has all the above prerequisite qualities, but the question is, does it work?

First, the story. James Reece is the personal aide to the US ambassador in Paris, a young man who dreams of becoming a top covert operative. He keeps getting assigned to plant bugs on his superior's instructions, but what Reece really wants is some action. Some real life, in your face kind of danger.

And he gets it. An American spy called Charlie Wax flies into Paris on a mission. Reece is ordered to be his partner and driver. And before you can say merci, Reece finds himself in all sorts of trouble as Wax drags him all over Paris with guns blazing and Parisian bad guys of every ethnicity getting shot or running helter skelter.

Wax apparently is trying to stop a terrorist attack on the city, and his 'shoot first, ask questions later' approach doesn't go down well with his new rookie partner. But the unlikely duo do everything they can to stop a catastrophe in time. Will they succeed?

Ah, that question doesn't need to be asked. But you'd like to know if this is good or not, right? Pierre Morel, who brought us the surprisingly awesome actioner Taken, takes the helm again. And again in Paris. He must love this city very much. But he's French, so there. Anyway, unlike Taken, which was very serious in tone, From Paris With Love takes the time to give us a few laughs here and there. We have a bald Travolta playing the triggerhappy Wax, spouting expletives left and right while blowing things up all around his more conservative partner Reece, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. The fun part is watching what happens when Wax's spontaneity clashes with Reece's contemplative approach. And it almost worked.

The problem is, the story has to matter. For the first half of the film, Wax drags Reece (who's carrying a vase full of cocaine everywhere) from one underworld lair to another, shooting and killing baddies, with no real explanation why. I know he's on a terrorist hunt, but the details have to matter if the audience wants to follow. And they usually do. The film moves so quickly that there's no time to even think of why Wax is doing what he's doing.

It is only when a pertinent plot twist is revealed halfway that the film finally kicks in to a higher level, and everyone including the audience know what the stakes are. But still, some consistency in storytelling would be nice.

Another thing I'd like to gripe about is the whole buddy cop thing. It's supposed to be funny, but there are times when things take a real serious turn, and the action comedy part of the movie suddenly fades. It's as if Morel can't decide if he wants it to be an action movie, or an action comedy. The balance isn't there sometimes.

Travolta does a good job hamming it up as Wax. He's basically playing his standard charming villain character in his other films here, only this time he's on the good side. But it works of course. Meyers isn't quite convincing as the straight laced Reece though. He doesn't quite share good chemistry with Travolta, but is believable in the dramatic scenes.

Action wise, it's nothing you haven't seen. Car chase, shoot outs, fist fights...all here. The stuff I saw in Taken was far better. But I'll give Morel credit for trying to entertain us for 100 minutes, and he almost succeeded.

Verdict: an action comedy that doesn't quite take off, but wouldn't hurt taking it for a ride. (3.5/5)

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