Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays James Reece, a low-level employee at the American embassy in Paris. In addition to his duties as assistant to the ambassador, Reece also performs menial tasks for an American intelligence agency but yearns for more action and excitement. When it finally comes, it’s in the form of baldheaded, leather-clad super- spy Charlie Wax (John Travolta), who storms into town on some sort of secret mission.
With his shaved head and earring, Travolta appears to have thought he was signing up for a movie about gay pirates. Or perhaps a biopic of Mr. Clean. Not to be unkind, but Travolta’s head looks truly gigantic here. I know he has become something of a chubster lately, but how can someone gain so much weight in his head?
Perhaps that extra weight came from all the scenery that Travolta has been chewing in recent years. Like Nicholas Cage, Travolta has become an actor virtually incapable of subtlety. These days, he can only give a good performance if he can channel his over-the-top qualities toward something interesting. Luckily, he does just that here. His energy suits his character, who seems to have forgotten the “secret” part of being a secret agent, preferring instead to burst into rooms, guns blazing. He seems to be in a different movie from everybody else, but Travolta is obviously having fun, as is the audience.
Meyers is hopelessly bland as Reece, but the script doesn’t do him ay favors. We’ve seen the conflict between a by-the-book character and his loose-cannon partner in every buddy cop movie ever made, and it isn’t really interesting any more. And Reece is supposed to gradually loosen his collar over the course of the film and adopt the shoot-first tactics of his new partner, but we never really buy that there is any bond between the two.
Besson only wrote the story for the film. The finished screenplay, by Adi Hasak, has some good dialogue but can be lazy to a fault. The plot is not terribly complex; it’s mainly summed up in one line, when Meyers asks Travolta what’s going on and he barks back, “It’s terrorists, man!” And off they go. Much of the film is taken up by scenes of Travolta shooting large numbers of bad guys. He starts out with a Chinese drug ring and quickly moves up the ranks to a cell of idle Eastern terrorists, with only a brief stop to take out a scuzzy Parisian street gang. And I think there were some Russians in there somewhere, too.
The film was directed by Pierre Morel, who helmed last year’s Taken as well as District 13, another goofy action flick written and produced by Besson. From Paris With Love is only 90 minutes long, but it feels as if it goes by even faster, as the film races through it plot and action scenes hurtle at us. There are occasional nods toward depth or character development, but it’s best to ignore them and focus on the next scene in which various bad guys pop out and Travolta sends them pin wheeling back in clouds of red mist.
The movie’s best action sequence is also one of its slower ones. It’s a nifty little scene in which Rhys Meyer is following Travolta up a spiral staircase and periodically has to dodge bodies of bad guys that Travolta has dropped from the floors above. And I’ll support any movie that finds a reason to have Travolta leaning out the window of a moving car to fire a bazooka at some villain.
From Paris With Love is an efficient thrill-delivery device. Despite having to edit the film somewhat choppily, perhaps in an effort to cover up Travolta’s lumbering and make his character seem like the unstoppable badass he’s supposed to be, Morel keeps the action flowing fast and furious.
Carey Norris writes about movies for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.