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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"FROM PARIS WITH LOVE"

From Paris With Love is one of those movies that no one will remember five years from now. If it comes up somehow, like in a trivia game or something, we'll all be scratching our heads trying to remember what exactly it was. This is not to say that it's a terrible film, but rather to suggest that there's really nothing to distinguish it from any other generic action movie. I'm always a little amazed at how filmmakers throw together some martial arts-based fights, some shootouts, and an explosion or two, and think they are being original in doing it. Is it any wonder that these pictures so often seem interchangeable?

You know the formula by now. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays James Reese, the lowly personal aide to a United States ambassador in France. His job is to do things like hiding tiny electronic recording devices in cars and offices. Reese is thoughtful, careful, and centered. He is also newly engaged to his girlfriend Caroline (Kasia Smutniak). The laws of buddy movies demand that someone like Reese be paired with his polar opposite; in this case, that would be reckless U.S. agent Charlie Wax (John Travolta). Wax has been assigned to foil a terrorist cell that is trafficking drugs to fund its activities. His approach, much to Reese's dismay, is to charge in with guns a-blazing.


John Travolta once again ventures into badass mode in From Paris With Love.
 
I wish I could say more, but I can't - not because of spoilers, but because the plot of From Paris With Love is paper-thin. The screenplay never establishes any significant sense of the terrorist operation, so the threat Reese and Wax are fighting against is vague at best. For this reason, the film often feels like it's making itself up as it goes along. Plot twists seem come completely out of thin air and are often incomprehensible. We don't get a credible villain either; the film finally identifies a bad guy in the last half hour, but this person's motives are never explained to any degree that makes so much as a shred of sense. There is a real laziness to the script that is ultimately what makes the movie forgettable. It doesn't really even try to present a coherent story.

This leaves two good actors in an awkward situation. Rhys Meyers and Travolta struggle gamely to be interesting in the midst of frequently underdeveloped scenarios. Travolta fares better, if only because he has the more flamboyant role to play. As in The Taking of Pelham 123, he's bald, goateed, and prone to overusing a particular 12-letter profanity. At least he appears to be enjoying the chance to ham it up and, in fairness, he's fun to watch. The actor is looser here than he has been on screen in a while. He makes Charlie Wax far more credible than the character has any right to be.

There are some fringe pleasures. A couple of the action scenes are effective, most notably a car chase which finds Wax hanging out the window of a speeding vehicle, rocket launcher in hand. That's kind of cool. Occasionally, a nice, perverse sense of humor shows itself as well. In one scene, Reese is working his way up a spiral staircase while Wax, who's already at the top, throws one bad guy after another down the center.

From Paris With Love could have used more of that kind of thing. What little bit there is elevates the picture slightly from its overall ordinariness; there just isnít enough of it. Director Pierre Morel (Taken) wants us to take the movie slightly seriously, when it should have had the guts to go completely over-the-top crazy, as Wanted or Shoot 'Em Up did. Without a strong narrative center, though, it's impossible to ever really become absorbed in the proceedings, and so we're left with a disposable piece of action fluff that never satisfies our hunger for fun.

( out of four)


From Paris With Love is rated R for strong bloody violence, drug content, pervasive language and brief sexuality. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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