No, there's nothing Bondian about it ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Monday, March 15, 2010

No, there's nothing Bondian about it

From Paris with Love
My rating:

Wow, they don't make movies like this anymore, do they? I'm talking about straightforward action movies, with no sci-fi or fantasy elements or pretensions to anything more serious than bullets and explosions and car chases. It seems like only Luc Besson is still making them; either directing or producing Hollywood-style action movies with Hollywood actors, but filmed and set in his native France and with a French flavour. The Transporter series and 2008's Taken were all his, and it looks like he'll keep on making them for a while to come.

This one won't go down as one of his best. But it's alright for what it is.

James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) lives in Paris with his beautiful girlfriend Caroline (Kasia Smutniak) and a job as the personal aide to the U.S. Ambassador, but runs minor errands for the CIA and yearns to become a field agent. He gets more than he bargained for when he is assigned to partner Charlie Wax (John Travolta), a wise-cracking, trigger-happy operative who leads him on a shooting spree throughout the Parisian underworld. At first he believes that he's helping Wax take down an international drug ring - but Reese will soon learn that their true mission hits much closer to home.

The title of this movie is seriously annoying me, because every time I even think it, Matt Munro starts crooning "From Russia with Love" in my head. You'd think that a spy action movie with a title like that would be an homage to the James Bond films, but nope - From Paris with Love is a buddy-action flick, and the only nods it makes are in the direction of John Travolta's 1994 role in Pulp Fiction. Okay, so it's a little confused as to its cinematic pedigree, but on its own it's... pretty much just a middling action movie. It could've been better but for a couple of things holding it back.

Chief amongst them is Jonathan Rhys Meyers' performance. He's dull. He never seems to get a handle on his role, which is as simple as being the straight man to Travolta's loose cannon. All he needs to do is bumble along after his badass partner and freak out once or twice, and if things get into serious OMG-I-just-killed-a-man territory, that's when he can break out his dramatic acting chops. But Rhys Meyers annoyingly underplays everything, even when the third act hands him a juicy emotional scene. Maybe it's the fact that he's a Brit putting on an American accent, which is something I can never get used to whether it's Pierce Brosnan or Brendan Gleason (to name just two actors in two recent releases that I am likely to review soon). This could've been a proper action comedy if he'd gotten into the goofy groove of the film.

Secondly is something I may probably not have noticed were it not for Roger Ebert's review. He's right - the editing of the action scenes isn't just choppy and incoherent, it's done to hide the fact that Travolta isn't really doing them. When he's not being doubled, he's shot from a dozen different cameras in such a way that we see three different shots of him throwing a single punch - which is most likely three different shots of him throwing a very slow punch that's just quickly edited together. And in at least one parkour-inspired chase scene, he looks overweight - in shots in which it's clearly him instead of his stunt double - which earlier scenes concealed by having him wear an overcoat. You'd think an actor playing an action hero would at least make the effort to get in shape a little.

But ironically, Travolta is the most fun thing in this movie. He chews scenery gleefully, and if he doesn't have the moves of a believable badass he at least has the attitude. His new bald-and-bearded look is pretty fearsome (it sure worked for Jeff Bridges in Iron Man), and the early parts where we never know when he's gonna pull out a gun and ballistically ventilate someone are the movie's best, but later on he also manages to develop some warm chemistry with Rhys Meyers. Also, there's a car chase late in the film that's precisely what we want out of a film like this; it's effectively thrilling, partly because it involves Travolta but doesn't actually require him doing anything physical.

Now, I freely admit that I haven't watched many of Luc Besson's Gallic-flavoured action movies, but I always thought they had a bit more edge than Hollywood fare. There's a bit in which Wax persuades Reese to take a snort of cocaine, and it just never really explains why he has to - maybe it's 'cos I'm a Malaysian who grew up believing that dadah is all musuh negara and penghancur bangsa and stuff. But From Paris with Love is otherwise pretty vanilla, and even if Besson is the only one still making stuff like this, they need to have a fresh twist or two to not fade into insignificance a week after their release. I enjoyed it somewhat, but the only reason I'll remember this movie is when I get the dulcet tones of Matt Munro stuck in my head again.

Expectations: meh


kenwooi said...

i didnt watch this movie at all =)

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