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Review: 'From Paris with Love'

This one should be returned to Paris

Posted: February 5, 2010 9:45 a.m.
Updated: February 5, 2010 9:50 a.m.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers, right, and John Travolta in a scene from "From Paris With Love." Though Travolta throws himself into the role, it never feels like more than action movie dress-up.

 
In the space of just a few weeks, we have movies starring Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson and John Travolta. It's like the early '90s all over again.

Nostalgia is on Travolta's mind, too. In "From Paris with Love," he plays a violent but chatty CIA agent who, while bullets fly, likes to engage in dialogue that recalls "Pulp Fiction" as if written by action film hacks.

It's a kind of return to Paris for Travolta, who memorably gave his travelogue of the French capital in "Pulp Fiction." "From Paris with Love" references that, too, with a wink-wink meal of a Royale with cheese.

The Tarantino comparison (not to mention the title's James Bond allusion) only serves to make "From Paris with Love" appear all the more slight.

The film is directed by Pierre Morel, who helmed another spy thriller, the surprising 2008 hit "Taken." Both were written (this one by Robert Mark Kamen) from a story idea by the French action filmmaker Luc Besson.

Like that film, which starred Liam Neeson, "Paris" turns drama stars into stealth, deadly spies. Alongside Travolta (Charlie Wax), Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays James Reese, an aide to the U.S. ambassador of France (Richard Durden).

But Reese is also a low-level secret agent for the CIA. He aspires to higher levels of intrigue and gets his shot when he's teamed with the veteran Wax. The two embark on a manic rampage of destruction, racking up double-digit bodies within minutes, in a desperate race to prevent terrorists from blowing up ungrateful politicians.

The not-so-subtle suggestion is that those who underestimate the terrorist threat or worry too much about protocol risk big trouble.
The ceiling for a movie like this is, at best, Guy Ritchie or John Woo territory - which is to say, quite low indeed. But the biggest thing standing in the way of "From Paris with Love" achieving even that standard is the laughable casting.

The Irish actor Rhys Meyers ("The Tudors," ‘'Match Point") likely has some fans somewhere, but his pasty, hollow-cheeked look has always seemed more model than actor. But even his defenders would acknowledge he's not quite action movie material.

That needn't be an impediment; the fish-out-water is a standby of many a thriller. But in "From Paris with Love," his character, though inexperienced, quickly adapts to the carnage. (He does blink for one pseudo-poetic moment of reflection in front of a mirror.)

Reese, it turns out, is a tough, too. Contrary to his manicured appearance, he boasts that he's from a hard New York neighborhood. One foresees South Bronx crowds cackling in the theaters.

Having more fun is Travolta. With a shaved head, a thick goatee, an earring and a leather coat with an upturned collar draped by a scarf, he resembles a biker from Soho.

He throws himself fully into the film, but it never feels like anything more than action movie dress-up.

"From Paris with Love," a Lionsgate release, is rated R for bloody violence throughout, drug content, pervasive language and brief sexuality. Running time: 95 minutes.

One star.

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