I grew up on the so-called "buddy-cop" action films that were so popular in the '80s and early '90s. Classic films like the "Lethal Weapon" series, "48 Hours" and "Midnight Run" that set a tone for an entire genre. Well, "From Paris With Love" is not quite as brilliant as those previously mentioned movies but it does deserve credit for being a fairly entertaining film and bringing back a genre long forgotten. It's probably more accurate to compare this film to "The Last Boy Scout" or "Red Heat," neither film is an example of genius filmmaking but both movies have become cult-classics and are beloved by their fans, including myself. I think "From Paris With Love" will have a similar fate and find a strong following on DVD and Blu-Ray in the years to come. It combines just the right amounts of humor and action to be both believable and entertaining at the same time and boasts strong and unusual leading characters.
In addition to the buddy-cop tone of the film, there is also a certain "Training Day" feel to the plot mixed in with the spy-film genre that results in a fresh and somewhat original film. Yes, John Travolta looks absolutely ridiculous (almost like a drag-queen) with his baldhead, goatee and strange attire but that actually all worked and lent well to set the tone for his character's eccentric ways. Travolta's over-the-top performance actually adds a much needed flair of comedy to the film and Jonathan Rhys Meyers does an excellent job of helping the plot move along while leveling off Travolta's performance and keeping him grounded. The plot may be a bit convoluted but in the end it really is good, action-packed, mindless fun. Travolta's character while ridiculous at times is really fun to watch if you don't take him too seriously. Yes he's crazy and no real person in the world would act like that but guess what? IT'S JUST A MOVIE! IT'S NOT REAL! So who cares? It's fun watching the former-Sweathog ham things up and blow things up at the same time. It's just good, wholesome, American fun!
The film begins by introducing us to James Reese played quite well by Jonathan Rhys Meyers ("Mission: Impossible III"). James is a personal aide to the U.S. Ambassador in France and has an enviable life living in Paris with his beautiful French girlfriend, Caroline. But James' real passion is his side job as a low-level operative for the CIA. His tasks consist of dropping off packages or moving cars and he longs to become a bona fide agent and see some real action. While having a romantic dinner with Caroline, James gets the opportunity he's been waiting for ... a senior-level assignment. His task? To guide a fellow CIA agent in from the U.S. through Paris while he's on assignment. Sounds easy, right? Wrong! James soon finds out just how difficult this will be when he meets his new partner, special agent Charlie Wax (Travolta). Wax is an eccentric, baldheaded badass who loves American cheeseburgers. He's also a trigger-happy, wisecracking, loose cannon that's been sent to Paris to stop a terrorist attack. Wax ends up leading James on a white-knuckle shooting spree through the Parisian underworld that has James praying for his desk job again. Along the way the two agents clash but James begins to appreciate Wax's expertise and starts to learn a thing or two about being a spy. However, James soon discovers that he is actually a target of the same crime ring that Wax is trying to bust and this revelation could cause repercussions in his private life as well. Now, with no hope of turning back and no one else he can trust, James turns to Wax who might be his only hope of surviving the next forty-eight hours and staying alive.
The film is directed by Pierre Morel ("Taken") and was written and produced by Luc Besson, who himself is an accomplished director of such contemporary classic films as "Nikita," "Leon" and "The Fifth Element." They collaborated together on last year's hit film "Taken," which Besson wrote. However, the two men first met while Morel was working as the cinematographer on "The Transporter," also written by Besson. While "From Paris With Love" is nowhere nearly as good as the fast-paced, smart, slick and tender at times "Taken," it does have some excellent moments and delivers its fair share of entertainment. Never taking itself too seriously the script is quick and very funny at times, which is helped by Meyer's deadpan strait man and Travolta's tongue-and-cheek performance. Travolta deserves credit here for walking a very fine line, while his performance at times begins to hit the red on the ham-meter he manages to keep the performance down to Earth, for the most part, and his behavior falls in line with the plot and his crazy character. Morel's look of Paris, as a city of love and mystery was breathtaking especially the scenes of the city at night. The action is well done and the tone of the movie has a nice Hitchcock/noir feel to it.
In the end, "From Paris With Love" will not be nominated for any Oscar Awards come this time next year but if you like action and comedy it will keep you fairly entertained for a couple of hours. One thing I found interesting about Travolta's performance was his willingness to go over-the-top and poke fun at himself. We've really just seen Travolta play two different types of roles over the last few years. He's either the badass bad-guy like in "The Taking Of Pelham 123" or the corny middle-aged guy in movies like "Old Dogs and "Wild Hogs." Here he is able to combine both for great effect creating a character that is original and entertaining. There are even a few nods to Travolta's legendary comeback role in Quentin Tarantino's now classic "Pulp Fiction." I had to wonder if the "Royal with cheese" line in this movie was in the original script or added on once Travolta took the role. None-the-less it just adds to the wink-wink fun of the film. "From Paris With Love" is a frivolous, fun movie that reminded me of the action/comedy films of my youth. Is it perfect? No. But it will satisfy most fans of the genre and keep you entertained with Myers and Travolta's lively performances.
From Paris with Love is out February 4, 2010.