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With: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak, Richard Durden, Yin Bing, Amber Rose Revah, Eric Gordon, François Bredon, Chems Dahmani
Written by: Adi Hasak, based on a story by Luc Besson
Directed by: Pierre Morel
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence throughout, drug content, pervasive language and brief sexuality
Running Time: 92
Date: 02/04/2010
IMDB

From Paris with Love (2010)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

French Shred

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Over the years, Luc Besson has successfully established a kind of B-movie factory, in which he writes stories, executive produces, and then sends others out into the field to make the actual movies. Most of the results are action movies, and most revolve around Besson's favorite theme: the mismatched, reluctant partners who team up against a greater evil. Most of these movies, frankly, have been a lot of fun. They're generally fast and lean and often feature crisp, clean action. You have to admire the guy for this; he may be the 21st century's answer to Roger Corman.

Two new Besson movies open today. The first is a sequel, District 13: Ultimatum, and the second is this John Travolta thriller. I can't say that From Paris with Love is terribly smart or original, and many have accused it -- not unfairly -- of going through the motions. And in fact it very often inspires laugher where there ought to be none, although I'm not entirely sure that Besson doesn't know what he's doing. The movie seems to have a sly, tongue-in-cheek awareness.

The main character is James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) an aide to the American ambassador in Paris. He's upright and clean-cut and wears a suit to every occasion. He's very much in love with, about to become engaged to, his gorgeous girlfriend, Caroline (Kasia Smutniak). But he also dreams of being a spy and is sent on simple missions like planting bugs and switching license plates. Finally his big break comes: he's to pick up Charlie Wax (John Travolta) at the airport, drive him around, and do what he says. Of course, it turns out that Wax is a real handful: loud, violent and a little obnoxious. At first it appears that Wax is trying to bust some drug dealers, but as they make their rounds through the Paris night, it becomes clearer that the real goal is to taken down a terrorist cell.

The thrust of the movie is, of course, the tension between the by-the-book Reece and the unorthodox Wax, who barges into each scene, guns blazing and foul mouth spraying. Wax is the street smart one who knows from experience how to handle each situation, but he seems to genuinely like Reece and tries to teach him something each time. Travolta is playing another one of his unhinged characters here, but this time he's clearly having the time of his life. He seems less conscious of his role, as if being the good guy takes a weight off his shoulders, and despite the high energy, it's his most relaxed performance in years, and he quickly wins us over. Poor Meyers doesn't fare as well in the "uptight" role, especially since his character has to spout some of the most inane, explanatory dialogue.

Director Pierre Morel seems to have less at stake here than in his previous film Taken, but the film cooks up some terrific imagery, from Reece lugging around a beautiful Chinese vase filled with cocaine, to a freeway chase involving a bazooka. It's the kind of mindless drive-in movie that might have inspired a young Quentin Tarantino, who receives a special tribute here (and who also paid tribute to Besson's La Femme Nikita). Indeed, there's definitely something to be said for an exciting, weightless, second-gear popcorn muncher like this. It may not have the answer to the world's ills, but it's a good time.

The Blu-Ray from Lionsgate looks spectacular and has a "bonus view" commentary track with director Morel appearing in a little box in the corner of the screen. It comes with several fairly standard featurettes, including one on real spies, and an interactive feature on the weapons in the movie. There's a trivia game and a theatrical trailer, and "Live" features for those with internet access on their Blu-Ray player. A second disc contains a digital copy of the film.

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