February 11, 2010

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From Paris With Love (R)
Jonathan Rhys Meyers gives us the world’s most hilarious American accent while John Travolta dresses up like Bruce Willis in From Paris With Love, a shockingly half-baked action movie.

By day, James Reece (Meyers) is just a mild-mannered assistant to the ambassador in Paris, but by night he’s a slightly less mild-mannered undercover intelligence agent. But the spy highjinks of changing license plates on cars and other weenie assignments just isn’t enough for James. He wants his chance at the big time — and he gets it with the arrival of Charlie Wax (Travolta), a swaggering, earring-wearing, bad-goatee-having big boy agent. James is to be Charlie’s partner — though really that just translates to driver — on some unspecified mission that involves a vase full of cocaine, Pakistani terrorists and some sort of world summit on Africa being attended by some extremely sour-faced American official (I believe she’s supposed to be a Hillary Clinton stand-in, but that’s just a guess).

Though all this kicking in doors and yelling swear words is just the kind of action James was looking for, he’s not so sure about Charlie and his — let’s sing the words together, gang — Unorthodox Rule-breaking Ways. Particularly since an incident with a prostitute could get James in trouble with Caroline (Kasia Smutniak), his live-in girlfriend who just proposed to him. Wait, no, Caroline, it’s not what you — but the elevator door on James, Charlie and the lady of the evening closes before he can explain that his presence in a brothel is Work-Related.

And, of course, no time to track her down — Charlie and James have a world to save and a whole lotta shooting to do.

I like my gratuitous violence as much as the next person — wait, no, I love gratuitous action movie violence. Even of the cartoony good-guy-knocks-out-a-dozen-bad-guys-with-one-kick variety. Especially of the cartoony variety. But here, the action doesn’t even rise to the level of “cartoony.” Artistically, it’s about on the level of a kid smashing a G.I. Joe action figure into a He-Man to simulate fighting but without the ironic “Talk Show Jon” charm.

Said action is telegraphed with preceding scenes of such breathtaking unsubtlety that they might as well have just skipped the dialogue and had Charlie say “OK, time to shoot people” and James answer “Agreed; my nebbish character shall hide over here and work on pronouncing my ‘R’s.”

And then, just when you feel you can not be further shocked by the amateur nature of the story or the “is this some kind of meta prank” badness of the dialogue, John Travolta says the words “royale with cheese,” one of his signature Pulp Fiction lines, and I am momentarily blinded by — what, disgust for the hackyness of that move? Hatred for how smug the movie is at what it clearly thinks is the cleverness of the reference? Nausea at the new level of stupid just unearthed? I guess some kind of gloppy, stinking combination of all three.

Any secrets the movie has are completely telegraphed by the home-video-level camera work of the first few minutes. There is no mystery to uncover (other than how big the paychecks must have been) and no joy to seeing the paint-by-numbers story play out. Royale with cheese indeed. D

Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, drug content, pervasive language and brief sexuality. Directed by Pierre Morel and written by Adi Hasak and Luc Besson, From Paris With Love is an hour and 35 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Lionsgate.