– Summary –
Director : Olivier Megaton
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : Zoe Saldana, Cliff Curtis, Amandla Stenberg, Michael Vartan, Lennie James, Callum Blue, Beto Benites, Jordi Molla, Graham McTavish, Ofelia Medina.
Approx Running Time : 108 Minutes
Synopsis: After witnessing the murder of her parents in Colombia, a young girl grows up to be a trained killer, led into action by her uncle. She seeks retribution for her parents’ murder, and will stop at nothing to achieve this outcome.
What we think : Derivative revenge-actioner offers nothing new to audiences, has little in the way of characterization, and is utterly bereft of soul – in short, the perfect rainy day, lazy Sunday afternoon flick. Olivier Megaton’s epileptic editing skewers any chance this film had of being even barely entertaining; not even the presence of Zoe Saldana, who looks awesome in this, by the way, can salvage anything credible from what is effectively a complete miasma on screen. It’s slick, it’s shiny, but it’s terrible.
By now, you should have learned that a film with the name Olivier Megaton attached as director should be one to avoid. Having ruined two perfectly acceptable action franchises – Taken and The Transporter – with his inept, frenzied-like-an-electrocuted-kitten film-making style, if you should take it upon yourself to enter into another film experience helmed by Megaton, you deserve every ounce of ruination you receive.
Take Colombiana, for example. In one, enormously egregious sequence of this film, a central character opens fire at a passing vehicle near a crowded school precinct, showering pedestrians with glass, bullets and no doubt fear. Said character, doing this to provoke a reaction from another of the core characters in the film, then walks away calmly, with no obvious concern for the fact that not only did he do this a) in broad daylight, but b) with plenty of witnesses and no apparent regard for life or liberty. The illogical nature of this moment is so catastrophic to any kind of believability in Colombiana – even at a pulp film level – that the rest of this house of cards never survives it.
As a film fan, you should expect more from a movie than simplistic characters, lack of emotion, and derivative storytelling, but that’s what you get here. Colombiana is a cheap exercise in by-the-numbers film-making, a senseless, obnoxious, toxic blight on cinema for making other shitty films look like Oscar bait. There’s not an ounce of humor, not an ounce of humility, not an ounce of respect for intelligent thought, anywhere within this grim, dark story of redemption. Not even Zoe Saldana can save it. Which is saying something, because Saldana is not exactly known for crappy acting. No, Colombiana is horrible, an excitement-free zone of style-over-substance-at-the-expense-of-coherence film school rejection, the kind of lazy, third-rate directorial style which makes Ed Wood look positively competent.
I’m not saying the film is poorly made from a technical perspective, not at all. As a work of cinema, it certainly looks slick and cool – the lighting, set design and production values are all more than decent. It’s the story and the direction which hamper this film, nothing else. Even the cast are all first rate in their oles, as underwritten as the majority of them are. Saldana, as the lead, has the lion’s share of emotive content to contend with, and she does a good job trying to elevate dire material into something watchable. Her character, borne of death and hatred, seeks revenge on those who killed her parents when she was a child. Grown up into an adult Saldana, Cataleya (that’s her name, which sounds pretty, but soon becomes tiresome) eventually confronts the men who set her on this Batman-like course of vengeance, and the Boss Level showdown begins.
Think of this film like a meaner version of Leon: The Professional. I mean, it’s obvious watching this that screenwriters Luc Besson (who directed Leon) and Robert Mark Kamen have simply sat back and gone “How can we update Leon for a modern audience…. let’s just stick a hot girl in the killer role and take it from there”…. In the place of Natalia Portman, you have Zoe Saldana. In place of Jean Reno, you have Cliff Curtis. Instead of Gary Oldman, this film has Lennie James (who, unlike Oldman in Leon, isn’t a complete psychopath). In place of vague French undertones, you have a Colombian/American flavor. The pieces are all there, it’s just a matter of making them all fit. Of course, with a hot adult assassin like Saldana, you need to give her some kind of love interest, which in the film is filled by Michael Vartan. Vartan’s role is that of a body for Saldana to screw, and that’s it. That’s about the only variation on Leon this film tries to give us. Even the Bad Guys are generic – all Spanish-speaking, five-o-clock-shadowed thugs with itchy trigger fingers – it’s like so much cannon fodder lined up for the bloodbath. And it is a bloodbath.
Where Leon succeeded in giving us decent characters, characters whom we care about should they die or get injured, Colombiana feels like it’s just going through the motions. There’s no tension, no sense of life-and-death on the part of Saldana’s character to survive this whole thing: you know she will, it’s simply a question of who won’t. Cliff Curtis’s gruff, nigh-incomprehensible Emilio, father figure to Cataleya, has the film’s only real depth, thanks to his relationship with Cataleya’s deceased parents. But it’s not enough – nor is his cavalier attitude to life: he’s okay to murder people he gets paid to kill, but when he discovers Cataleya has been tracking and killing those involved with her parents death, he goes bonkers – to salvage this film. Logic doesn’t apply in this film, apparently, neither to the laws of physics nor the requirements of a good story.
Olivier Megaton’s direction is slick, sure, but it’s lifeless. Luc Besson’s (he produced this film) crazy-good film style in Leon now feels like a distant memory, thanks to Besson’s desire to purge our memories of quality and instead fill them with shit. You, dear filmgoer, deserve better than this. Every action moment, from Cataleya’s escape through the Colombian slums, to her opening assassination in a high-security police precinct of a gangster, to the inevitable showdown between Cataleya and the police, and Cataleya and the Colombian criminals who murdered her parents, are presented in eye-watering ferocity by Megaton’s jittery editing finger. I hesitate to use the term Catwoman in this review (because Catwoman, directed by Pitof, remains the nadir of film-making in the last twenty years, really) but Columbiana is almost at Catwoman status from an editorial standpoint. Every jump, punch and gunshot, every slide, kick and explosion, every single action beat this film contains is filmed from what appears to be a hundred different angles, and then we’re given three or four frames of every f@cking angle to enjoy it. Watching this film feels like being pounded in the brain with a ball-pine hammer. Repeatedly.
Part of my job as a film blogger is to warn you of films such as this. Films which run the very likely risk of reducing your brain capacity or inflicting post traumatic stress disorder, of which Colombiana is the very essence. This film’s horrifying sense of style, its complete disregard for the very building blocks of quality film-making, coupled with Megaton’s inability to hold a camera shot steady or simply use one shot to display a moment of action, will make you weep for the future of Hollywood. If you aren’t already. If you’re a newbie to Colombiana’s lure, then take this as your warning to run far away, as fast as possible. If, like me, you’ve already endured this cinematic water-boarding, then you should take it upon yourself to warn your fellow human beings about the deceptive trap they may encounter. Colombiana is a rotten, rabid dog requiring euthanasia. Much like Megaton’s directorial career.
Yours most sincerely,
Rodney T – EIC, Fernby Films