– Summary –
Director : Pierre Morel
Year Of Release : 2009
Principal Cast : John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak, David Gasman, Richard Durden, Yin Bing, Amber Rose Revah, Eric Godon, Francois Bredon, Chems Dahmani.
Approx Running Time : 90 Minutes
Synopsis: Two covert CIA operatives must work together to stop a deadly terrorist attack on the streets of Paris. They use guns and screaming to achieve this.
What we think : Brainless, dynamic and violent, From Paris manages to remain enjoyable just long enough to forget about it as soon as you’ve finished watching. It’s a definite Travolta love-fest here, with the legendary actor (sans hair) chewing through every scene and set-piece with the subtlety of forty pounds of dynamite. He’s the star of the show, and knows it.
After the success of his previous film Taken, starring Liam Neeson (reviewed here on the site), a film which we absolutely loved to bits, we had high hopes for Frenchman Pierre Morel’s next project, starring the always reliable John Travolta and the curious choice of Jonathan Rhys Meyers: From Paris With Love. Given his tutelage under uber-Frenchman Luc Besson, Morel had the challenge of somehow rising above the b-movie listings some of his contemporaries had struggled with, people like Chris Nason and Xavier Gens. Taken affirmed his breakout status among the Western mainstream, following on from the hilarity and energetic action flick (in his native French) District 13, another film we’ve already reviewed here. So with From Paris, we’d come to expect a little of the extroverted, a little high-octane violence and adrenaline, if not always an entirely cohesive script. We got exactly what we asked for.
From Paris With Love sees Meyers playing James Reese, an attaché to a US diplomat stationed in Paris, while moonlighting as an undercover CIA agent. However, when he’s partnered up with the seemingly insane Charlie Wax (Travolta), a trigger-happy loudmouth who always seems to be right, to stop an imminent terrorist attack. Whereas most operatives would take the time to gather intel and surveil their quarry, Wax appears less a CIA operative and more an uncontrolled anarchist with a badge. He shoots, screams, drives fast and generally creates a trail of destruction wherever he goes, in order to achieve his objective at any cost. Reese’s girlfriend, Caroline (Kasia Smutniak) has just proposed to the younger agent, which puts added pressure on him to survive the coming storm. They uncover a group of Pakistani terrorists using drugs and prostitution to fund their campaign, which centers around a high-profile conference due to take place in Paris shortly. So, the obligatory race to stop the bomb going off takes place, with a few twists and turns along the way to keep the audience guessing.
From Paris isn’t highbrow film-making. It’s low-fi, gung-ho adrenaline soaked frenetics, a pyrotechnical delight and the kind of film John Woo wishes he still made. Guns and bullets whizz through the Parisian air with the zing of an LA race riot, the flash-bang body count ticking over at an astronomically high rate. Travolta seems custom made for this role, a kind of pastiche of Gary Oldman’s crooked cop in Leon The Professional and his own roles in Broken Arrow and Face/Off. Here, as the bald and completely insane Charlie Wax, he’s having the time of his life shooting up the screen, and Morel seems intent on putting him in as many fire-fights as possible. Rhys Meyers seems utterly bewildered by the film on the whole, as if he thought he was signing up for a genteel rom-com instead of a ballsy action fest. Meyers’ performance here is adequate, at best, but he does well with the limited scripting he’s afforded. The unfortunately named Kasia Smutniak (I bet I know what she was teased for at school!) is delightful as Reese’s girlfriend, although she can’t come up with the acting chops when things to to crap in the last act of the film. No, this is truly Travolta’s star turn, and he ride this pony like an old time rodeo clown. Travolta has made this kind of role his own, over his career, with similar characters (albeit with different agendas) in films such as the previously mentioned Broken Arrow, Face/Off, Swordfish and even The Punisher. It’s simply a matter of yelling, snarling, sniffing and cracking wise throughout, and Travolta is such a pro at this that it looks effortless.
The main problem (apart from the fact that the film defies almost any common sense and logic) with From Paris is that it’s simply one long chase/shoot-out film. After a relatively brief set-up at the beginning, the film goes every which way at once, guns waving and tyres screeching at full volume, as if director Morel was compensating for a lack of actual story. The characters are, effectively, wafer thin, devoid of anything resembling actual human beings, (at once point, after a point blank suicide before him, Reese’s reaction is to stand at a hand-basin for a few minutes and shakily wash off the blood…. a moody stare into mirror completing the cliché) instead leaving plenty of room for cool one-liners and graphic shooting sprees. Morel deftly sidesteps class for energy, taking the raw, edgy feel of Taken and squashing it into a more mainstream Hollywood-ised action gloss. The whole film feels manufactured, like every action beat and scene has been created simply for the sake of looking cool on-screen, which it does. As far as logic and reason go, though, how’s this? There’s a moment, where Travolta and a fellow agent are careening down a freeway after one runaway terrorist, when old John pulls out a rocket launcher (of course they have them standard in all French cars) and proceeds to aim up whilst sitting on the window ledge of the vehicle. So when the mobile phone rings, he grunts, frustrated, and then proceeds to pull the phone out and put it to his ear. Mind you, he’s doing all this at some obscene speed while trying not to kill any of the other innocent motorists on the highway. At first, you get caught up in the adrenaline of it all. But then, the when Wax is sitting out the window with a rocket launcher and a phone to his ear, chatting to the driver of the vehicle and whoever is on the other end of the phone, you start to have second thoughts about just how seriously producer Besson and director Morel were taking this. It’s in-sane.
Still, what do you expect from a script where people are killed at the rate of one per page. It’s high on volume and excitement, sparing things like dramatic weight and logic for film with smaller budgets. This is gangbuster film-making, and while Morel pulls it off (in my humble opinion) to a large extent, it’s not a patch on his more contemplative and intellectually thrilling Taken. I know, I’m comparing films, but I can’t help it. From Paris doesn’t stack up to Morel’s previous work, District 13 included. But it will entertain, at least only as a guilty pleasure. It’s a film made in the same mould as Armageddon or Starship Troopers: not to be taken seriously, but rather let it wash over you and revel in its cheesy, gloriously violent endeavours. All the while wondering if people like Charlie Wax actually exist.
From a production point of view, From Paris is pretty smartly executed. The editing is frenetic and fabulous, props to Frédérick Thoraval for the great job, and the score (by up-and-comer David Buckley, whose work on a couple of Shrek films, Jim Carrey’s The Number 23 and Aardman’s Flushed Away, have led to more up-scale projects for him) is about as action-y as you’d expect. Pierre Morel directs this film like a freight train, barely giving the audience a moments pause to reflect on the wanton violence perpetrated in the name of justice, which is probably a good thing considering the increasingly stupid scripting that continues to keep this film going. The script, co-written by Besson and Adi Hasak, barely manages a coherent line anywhere, using the oft clichéd profanity in place of actual dialogue, which is a shame really because actors like Travolta can do a lot better than simple swearing. And the characters aren’t really asked to do much more than point a gun and shoot, although a sub-arc involving Reese’s lack of training is quite subtly done (by the end, though, he’s wielding his weapon like a seasoned pro) and adds a little to this fairly Spartan screenplay. It’s plot-by-numbers here, so don’t expect any dialogue that isn’t lathered with swearing, or technobabble (or, in Travolta’s case, super-cool one-liners) to keep the audience confounded.
To all those who read this and think: man, Rodney, you don’t seriously expect me to like this film, do you? I say this: From Paris With Love isn’t an intellectual film, it’s not high art nor is it intended to be memorable. Nope, this is a complete waste of time for cinema snobs or high altitude critics who think a film where anything blows up means cretins made it. It’s a football movie, a beer movie, the kind of film where blokes kick about and laugh at the lame jokes, enjoy the wanton gunplay and violence, and think about just how shitty Look Who’s Talking Now actually was. It’s a film purely for entertainment, and as long as you remember that, you’ll probably get some vicarious thrill out of it. Anyone expecting more will be missing the point entirely. As a consequence, my rating reflects its inherent entertainment value, rather than its merits as a film.