Last year French cinematographer-turned-director Pierre Morel brought us “Taken” a violent little Euro-centric thriller about a father who would do anything—and I mean anything—to retrieve his daughter from some very bad men. It was a down-and-dirty little flick, classed up somewhat by the presence of Liam Neeson in the lead role, and it became an unexpected lightening-in-a-bottle hit. Morel is back behind the camera with a new actioner called “From Paris With Love.” Unfortunately lightening has not struck twice.
Like “Taken” the story is simple and leaves the action to be the real selling point. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is James Reece an aide to the US Ambassador in Paris who moonlights on the side for the FBI. He is given the biggest assignment of his secret agent career when he is partnered with Charlie Wax (John Travolta), the typical unorthodox but effective undercover movie spy. Together they go on a rampage across the streets and embassies of Paris to put a stop to a terrorist attack. Carnage ensues.
“Taken” worked not just because the action sequences were out of control, but because audiences had some empathy for Liam Neeson’s character as he was kicking butt across Europe. It was a personal mission; he was trying to get his daughter back. Here, however, Meyers and Travolta are a shadowy part of the war on terror and seem to enjoy the bloodshed a little too much. This time it’s not personal, it’s psychotic and even the inclusion of a couple of “Royale with Cheese” “Pulp Fiction” call backs won’t make us identify with these two.
“From Paris with Love” has some cool action scenes—a killing spree in a stairwell is tense and exciting—but the paper thin story, cardboard characters and silly red herrings suck much of the fun from the movie.
John Travolta is bordering on Nicolas Cage territory here. He seems to be trying his hand at Cage’s extreme acting style, working some over-the-top theatrics into his performance, but overall he’s simply not that convincing as a devil-may-care secret agent. He can do menacing. We saw it in “Pulp Fiction”, “Blowout” and more recently in “The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3” but here he seems to be trying a too hard.
But at least he’s trying, which is more than can be said for Jonathan Rhys Meyers who hands in one of the more wooden performances seen on film so far this year. My advice to him: Beware of woodpeckers.
This is only Morel’s third film as a director and already he has established a set of trademarks, for better and for worse. On the plus side, he knows how to stage an action sequence and has clearly watched more than a few John Woo movies. He also has an eye for shooting in urban spaces, but compared to “Taken” with its beauty shots of Paris, “From Paris with Love” looks like it could have been made almost anywhere. With the exception of the odd Eiffel Tower shot, location wise it’s rather generic, which it shouldn’t be when you are shooting in one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in the world.
On the minus side he’s already becoming somewhat predictable. In his movies the dinner scene always seems to end poorly for the hostess.
Despite a huge body count and a screen littered with empty shell casings “From Paris with Love” isn’t as exciting or as interesting as “Taken.”