Entire essays — books even — can be devoted to describing Zoe Saldana’s beauty. Everything from her eyes and sun kissed skin to her perfectly toned body makes her every man’s epitomic woman. And Oliver Megaton’s Colombiana was clearly devoted for an actress of her picturesque appearance. Penned by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Karmen, this late summer actioner follows Cataleya Restrepo (Saldana), a girl who becomes a stone-cold assassin after she witnesses the murder of her parents as a child in Colombia. But before being shot down by Don Luis’ (Beto Benites) ruthless cronies (a crew that includes Marco, played by Jordi Mollà , who describes himself as a very good family friend), her father, Fabio (Jesse Borrego), hands the schoolgirl a flashcard, which he explains is her “passport,” an address that leads to the U.S. embassy, and a Cataleya orchard shaped medallion. Escaping to Chicago, she ends up with her uncle, Emilio (Cliff Curtis), who trains her to be a professional hitman. However, Cataleya isn’t driven by money, but rather revenge, and paints an orchard in lipstick on each of her victims hoping that it’ll attract the attention of the mobster who slayed her family. But, by the end of the film, she doesn’t only accomplish getting their attention, but also gets the law — led by a determined Special Agent Ross (Lennie James) — hot on her trail.
We’ve become accustomed to the idea of a lady-killer, but, at the same time, there hasn’t been a smart female lead in the role. The actresses cast are handpicked for their sexiness, but, for the most part, their personalities seem to have been lost in the process. Needless to say, Catalaya is a dolt. Meanwhile, Saldana is not (as a teen, she attended one of the most prestigious dancing schools in the Dominican Republic, later becoming a spokesperson for the Faces theater troupe, which is geared towards sending positive messages for teens, via themes dealing with issues like substance abuse and sex). Why would the actress accept the role then? I assume as a performer, it must’ve been an exciting opportunity to lead in a major blockbuster. By way of bad luck, the criminally-underwritten Colombiana was not the right career move; treating her as a hot commodity instead of a human-being, the filmmakers make her into an incredibly attractive cardboard cutout.
Ironically, because of the film’s exploitative nature, the film’s strong suit becomes its weakest link. But womanhood is not the only thing that Megaton seeks to corrupt — the innocence of childhood is just as high up on that list. The first action sequence involves an adolescent Cataleya forcing a knife down a gunman’s hand, running through the streets in her uniform, carefully avoiding gunfire as she parkour-style jumps through a marketplace. It ends with the child stuffing her fingers down her throat, vomiting out Fabio’s SD drive, and picking through the bile to find it. From there, Emilio pays off the local principal, trying to get his niece out of a life of crime, but she insists, telling him that “[she] want[s] to be a killer.” His response, for whatever reason, is to open fire on a crowd of civilians — in front of the school no less. Personally, I’m always weary about filmmakers using children in ultraviolent situations. Usually it’s done without merit, has no relevance to the plot, and is just cruel to make audiences watch. For this reason, it’s fortunate that Colombiana sports a tame PG-13 rating.
For the most part, the action sequences are conventional. The film seeks to once again prove the strength-in-numbers theory false. And by Hollywood’s grace, no amount of lead can stop the hardened protagonist. Bullets fly and Catalaya effortlessly sidesteps them, C4 detonates but she reappears at the top of a very long flight of stairs, and guards look away the exact second that she’s seen on camera. One can’t help but question how Don Luis found his hired men and decided that, despite the fact that they can’t shoot straight, they’d be fit protectors. Though, Megaton, through his nuanced opening scene, an aerial shot of Bogota (the capital of Colombia) which is accompanied by a few, brief clips of bundles of cash being counted and masked men cradling rifles, implies that Colombia is a central player in money laundering and murder. That being said, there must be no shortage of men willing to kill for their paychecks — the only requirement being that they’re able to shout, “Remember where you came from,” dramatically.
And much like the workmanship of the aforementioned criminals, Colombiana is just lazy. Think of it as a modern-day spin-off of “Conan the Barbarian” with a sexy woman in the lead. And other than its gorgeous star and a notoriously bad fighting sequence between Catalaya and Marco (easily the worst of this year), there’s nothing memorable or worth watching here. Regardless of the film’s tagline, “Vengeance is beautiful,” this production proves that it’s a brutal exercise — both for the characters themselves and audience members alike.