Directed by: Pierre Morel
Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, John Travolta, Kasia Smutniak, Richard Durden
Rated: R for strong bloody violence throughout, drug content, pervasive language and brief sexuality.
John Travolta seems to be making a wonderful habit of playing crazed-but-very-skilled individuals. His villainous Ryder from “The Taking of Pelham 123″ was a delight, and in “From Paris With Love,” he gets to play a very similar character — only this time, he’s a good guy. Charlie Wax is an American spy in Paris, assigned to take down a terrorist ring planning an attack in the city. He swears like a sailor, doesn’t share information well, and is more than happy to get in massive gunfights if it will move his efforts forward even slightly.
The hero of “From Paris With Love” is James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a US Embassy employee who really, really wants to be a spy. He finally gets his big break and is promoted from being one of the behind-the-scenes types who change the real spies’ license plates to being Wax’s partner. He’s precise, organized, a chess player, and not at all the kind of guy who fits well with Wax, setting the two of them up for a perfect buddy-movie arc.
This isn’t a by-the-numbers Hollywood flick, though. Its story was written by the gifted French action filmmaker Luc Besson, and it was directed by Pierre Morel (who helmed the delightful parkour action flick “District B-13″). There are enough twists to keep you on your toes, and while some of them are telegraphed, the resulting actions aren’t disappointing. When you ride a roller coaster, sometimes you can see the rails start to curve before a turn; if the ‘coaster is good, it doesn’t make the ride any less fun.
Travolta and Meyers’ performances are thoroughly engaging. Travolta chews scenery with aplomb while Meyers offers us an intelligent, if naive, young man who has the makings of an excellent spy. Their chemistry works for the buddy angle, and the film ends with a good setup for a sequel. We can but hope.
The film has a good mix of action, comedy, and suspense, though its plot is occasionally a bit murky. That’s a liability in a film which also has political intrigue, since it’s hard to enjoy a well-crafted bit of that when you’ve turned your brain off to aid in the suspension of disbelief. However, the characters are sufficiently entertaining to make up for that lack, at least for character-fixated viewers like myself.
If you’re looking for a fun action movie, “From Paris With Love” should hit the spot. It’s highly entertaining in spite of the occasional lack of clarity. Here’s hoping Travolta keeps turning out films with characters like this, he has a definite knack for it. Folks looking for complex, brilliantly-crafted, intellectual puzzles should stay away. This isn’t your standard brainless flick, but it’s not exactly a brain teaser, either.