Just as how Milkyway and Johnnie To in Asia has churned out films with that unmistakable Hong Kong crime noir flavor, I look at Europa Corp and Luc Besson in Europe with something of a similar eye, being somewhat of a fan of their action films of late, especially when Besson has some involvement either in production, story or directing that rare film these days.
One can imagine the kind of cinematic mayhem created with Pierre Morel directing a Luc Besson story, which the last combination had resulted in the action packed thriller Taken. With From Paris with Love, this formula again delivered where it mattered – high octane action that never lets up from the get go, especially when we have the casting of John Travolta as a loose canon live wire who was probably schooled and skilled in the same clandestine network as Liam Neeson's Bryan Mills from Taken, except that he cracks more jokes, uses methods that are a lot more over the top unorthodox, but similarly dispatches opponents with deadly force and without remorse.
In some ways this is like the rebooted James Bond, where we follow diplomat James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who is yearning for a more adventurous tour of duty for his country other than serving in the US Embassy in Paris, planning the itinerary of the Ambassador. He gets that all important call one day to do just that, except that he finds himself stuck in an extremely strange on job training with the best in the cloak and daggers business, Travolta's Charlie Wax. Before he can even settle down for a meal, they get into fire fights after fire fights, from restaurants to dilapidated built up areas, touring sites like the Eiffel Tower, to staking out from a run down brothel, all in the name of taking down drug dealers, or so it seems. Reece had asked for a license which is more than what he can handle, and has to fulfil his duty to the country while learning an important lesson in his occupation that would make Bond just as proud, and probably put his arms around and empathize with.
Morel again demonstrates that he's top dog in the action flick business now, knowing when to push your level of adrenaline to a higher level, and keeping it there throughout the set action sequences, be it balletic pistol shoot outs, or a meandering freeway chase at top speed. Like how the metaphor of chess playing get thrown around from time to time in the narrative, Morel plays the narrative out like a chess game, one step at a time and always having one party being one step ahead, until the ultimate checkmate.
With our recent diplomatic immunity spat, this film delves into just how much mayhem a diplomatic pass can dish out, from bypassing security screenings, behaving like a complete jerk and getting away with it, and of course, bringing about complete and utter chaos with an ever increasing body count with nary a question asked by a single cop. The dynamic duo here walks around as if nothing has happened, that in some ways may feel heavy handed that only the American clandestine network is capable of taking down the bad guys anywhere in the world, without giving too hoots about sovereignty especially France which they had bailed out twice in two world wars.
For those who enjoy the bickering-buddy movie, then From Paris With Love is your automatic choice, especially when Travolta steals the show with his mean looks of a bald head and a goatee, thrash talking and punishing his prey at the same time without breaking a single bead of sweat. Heck, he even comes with his own bag of high tech toys to keep the tech junkie happy that he's not just all brawn but some brains as well. What more, I can't laugh harder than when a sly reference managed to find itself inserted into the film which jibed at Travolta's Vincent Vega role from Pulp Fiction which talked about a certain food franchise observation. Jonathan Rhys Meyer's character looks more the whiner than a decent partner for Wax, and this turns out to be the cursory character development to make its way to the story.
But the film is far from perfect and lacking that killer instinct that Morel's Taken delivered, and fell for the ultra conventional finale monologue that wouldn't fly if this had tried to be a tad more realistic. Still, action fans are likely to get their bang for the buck. Recommended!