Action movies take particular glee in shooting up famous cities, or blowing them up. When disaster movies are through blowing up America’s landmarks, they likely go to Paris and blow up the Eiffel Tower. Even the French aren’t shy about Americans shooting up their city, as Pierre Morel and Luc Besson proved last year with Taken. Now, just when Paris finished cleaning up Liam Neeson’s mess, From Paris with Love sends an even more rough, tough, one man wrecking crew to wipe out France’s criminal element. But if viewers snicker over this unstoppable killing machine being a bald John Travolta, From Paris with Love will likely take it as a compliment.
James Reece is the personal assistant to Paris’s U.S. Ambassador, but is really aiming for a shot at Special Ops. His chance comes when a top agent arrives to complete a secret mission, and Reece is assigned to drive him. But Charlie Wax hardly fits the profile of a secret agent – at least until the bald, bombastic, half crazed Wax starts shooting up bad guys. It’s a close call as to whether Wax or the bad guys will get Reece killed first – although the unlikely pair may be the only hope to stop a major terrorist attack.
Director Morel and action master Besson may be French, but they take as much glee in shooting up Paris as the average American action director. But Taken was a bit more subdued by comparison, as From Paris with Love throws out everything in the kitchen sink, and goes for a broadly comic approach. Or at least, it does so in the lengthy second act of Wax and Reece’s rampage through France.
To get there, From Paris with Love starts with 10-15 minutes of slow setup before Wax arrives. Usually, it’s odd to feel impatient while waiting for John Travolta to show up, but this isn’t the normal Travolta, of course. He’s gone over the top in action movies before, but Charlie Wax is another ball of wax altogether. If Travolta’s psycho in The Taking of Pelham 123 seemed deranged and overly pumped up, that’s still nothing compared to his good guy spy here. Since that’s basically the whole show in From Paris with Love, the viewer’s reaction depends whether they’re a Travolta fan or hater.
The sight of Travolta being this action packed and bad ass is a head scratcher, even though he’s done it a few times before. But despite his past action movies, it still sounds weird to picture him as this kind of one-man war machine. He certainly shoots bad guys into swiss cheese with panache, but it borders on the repetitive after a while. There’s only so many ways to shoot villains before it gets played out, whether the shooter is Travolta or a more conventional action hero.
But From Paris with Love is an action comedy, so Travolta gets to chew up the one-liners as well as the guns. In a less intentionally comic thriller, his persona and swagger would be more out of place, as it has been many times before. Here, it fits in just fine as he shoots off his mouth as well as he shoots off his gun. It also gives forgotten co-star Jonathan Rhys-Meyers something to play off, as he’s far less successful carrying things on his own.
After about an hour of non stop trips and shootouts through France, From Paris with Love takes a more conventional action approach, however. Once a terrorist threat and the requisite double crosses emerge, the movie actually seems to try to get taken seriously. By that point, such an approach is too little, too late. In the end, Travolta’s bag of crazy tricks run out, leaving not much else left to go on.
Given the squarely B-movie approach, no one should be that disappointed or surprised by From Paris with Love’s mixed results. But given how low Travolta has sunk in the past, the fact that this doesn’t come close to his worst bombs is a small victory. One can be forgiven for thinking it’s not for a lack of trying, however.
Both his fans and critics should be intrigued enough to check it out, since viewers have to see him like this to believe it. Yet aside from that particular sideshow, From Paris with Love doesn’t have too many other attractions – and even if there were, they’d probably get shot up by Charlie Wax too.