From Paris with Love

Time Out New York Project: Issue #749, February 4–February 10, 2010


Dir. Pierre Morel. 2010. R. 92mins. John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak.

John Travolta breaks the braggadocio meter in the latest tightly wound actioner from Taken’s Pierre Morel. As renegade Royale-with-Cheese-loving FBI agent Charlie Wax, the actor amplifies every gesture, dispatching bad guys and macking on the ladies with the same overemphatic bluster. It’s entertaining and embarrassing all at once. Even bald, glowering and goateed, Travolta can’t mask his sensitive side, so he’s never entirely convincing as a stone-cold assassin. But he’s still pretty hilarious when placed alongside Jonathan Rhys Meyers’s sexy-nerdy James Reece, a hyperorganized employee at the U.S. embassy in Paris who becomes Wax’s tag-along protégé. They’re initially tasked with taking down an Asian drug ring, but the mission keeps growing in scope. 

Morel, working from a story by the film’s producer, Luc Besson (see also this week’s District 13: Ultimatum), treats the proceedings like a bullet-riddled Looney Tunes adventure. The fate of a faux Ming vase filled with cocaine makes for a brilliantly delayed punch line. And during one ultraviolent shoot-out, bodies drop down a stairwell like Acme anvils. Yet there’s also an uneasy seriousness to the carnage, typified by an extended image of Reece frantically wiping an antagonist’s blood off his face. It’s one confused moment of many, an aside captured with a conviction that eschews have-it-both-ways cynicism. The climax, too, where Reece squares off with a female suicide bomber, successfully melds the film’s sanguine and sincere impulses. It’s here that Besson’s influence is most deeply felt: Only in the world of this Gallic populist could a well-placed bullet come off as a romantic gesture.—Keith Uhlich