While the title of From Paris with Love may imply that it’s a romantic comedy featuring the Eiffel Tower, the title is in fact a James Bond homage, and the production is a hardcore, no-holds-barred action flick which arrives courtesy of Luc Besson’s production factory. For those unaware, Besson is the French filmmaker who produces American action films with far more verve than American filmmakers themselves. Not long ago, Besson and director Pierre Morel teamed up for the surprise hit Taken, and From Paris with Love marks another Besson/Morel collaboration. But while Taken was a gritty, hard-hitting actioner, this movie is a straight-up cartoon; an exaggerated cocktail of two-dimensional villainy, verbal bluster, mayhem, John Woo-esque action set-pieces starring an over-the-top John Travolta as a cocky government operative tracking down an array of terrorists in the heart of France. Intellectually, the movie is flat as a pancake, but on a visceral level it’s extremely involving. The film knows precisely what it is, and does a damn good job of being it.
The story is at once incomprehensible and expendable, but it’s sufficient to drive the characters from Point A to Point B, which is all that matters in an action flick. In the film, Travolta’s character of Charlie Wax is a profane American killing machine who’s paired up with James Reece (Myers); a mild-mannered aid to the U.S. Ambassador in Paris with large aspirations. By the time Wax and Reece have known each other for a mere hour, the body count has already started to mount considerably. At first, Wax claims he’s taking down a bunch of drug dealers responsible for the death of the Secretary of Defense’s daughter, but his real mission is soon revealed: To eliminate a terrorist cell before the members launch an attack.
After 2004’s District B13 and the more recent Taken, director Pierre Morel has positioned himself as a superior action director. He has a masterful touch when it comes to pace, and From Paris with Love benefits greatly from such exhilarating acceleration. After a slow opening, the film takes off like a champion racehorse once Wax enters the film, as the screenplay by Adi Hasak (Shadow Conspiracy) lines up a series of unsavory characters — all of whom are one-dimensional stereotypes, of course — for Wax and Reese to ice during their fast-paced trip around the city. However, the problem is that it takes a little too long for the film to hits its stride. The first 20 minutes are genuinely lousy, even by the admittedly low standards to which the movie was aspiring. In high octane action flicks, the segues bridging the action tend to suck, and From Paris with Love is no exception. As the film establishes James Reece, it’s frankly boring, and the tone is out-of-place when compared to the light-hearted action which pervades the film’s final hour.
Thankfully, after the 20-minute point, the movement of Morel’s direction is enthralling; leaping from location to location, staging shootouts and action set-pieces with a cartoonish quality to match Travolta’s performance. Even if Morel appears to be on autopilot, he nonetheless delivers in each and every set-piece, sending bullets flying all over the place like it’s nobody’s business. As a matter of fact, the action evokes the spirit of John Woo movies. It’s such a relief to watch a modern action flick containing action that has been edited to ensure an audience knows what’s going on at any given time, as opposed to set-pieces that have been cut to incomprehensible ribbons. More pertinently, it’s fantastic to see a contemporary actioner in which bad guys get popped in violent, bloody ways, without the cleanliness of the Hollywood-favorite PG-13 rating. As the action intensifies and the explosions keep getting bigger, one gets the feeling that it’s building to a big climax. However, From Paris with Love fails in its finale — cheesy character interaction and impassioned speeches have no place in such a film as this.
Luc Besson’s films usually feature recognizable Hollywood names, and the A-lister of From Paris with Love is John Travolta who absolutely steals the motherfucking show. Dispersing first-rate one-liners, shooting the hell out of the bad guys and beating the snot out of anyone who challenges him, Travolta truly chews up the scenery with the gusto of a hungry dog attacking a meal — he simply owns the role. He’s the hook — without him, the movie would be ordinary, but with him, there’s always something to enjoy during the film’s slowest moments. As legendary YouTube reviewer Jeremy Jahns said, if Jack Bauer (from 24) and Samuel L. Jackson had a child, it would be Travolta’s character here. Meanwhile, Jonathan Rhys Meyers was given the unenviable task of playing the straight man to Travolta. Anyone could play this role, and Meyers never stands out as anything but interchangeable. Still, he’s watchable at least.
From Paris with Love is one of those movies that consists almost entirely of over-the-top action sequences tenuously linked together by a painfully formulaic, by-the-numbers plotline and two-dimensional characters. From this description, it may sound like a brain-dead blockbuster that doesn’t care about how lazy or graceless it is as long as there’s sound and fury to temporarily distract the audience. But what prevents From Paris with Love from hopelessly falling into this trap is a great deal of style, energy and personality. It’s an enjoyable, lively old-school bullet ballet that’s low on CGI, and this separates it from the abominable films of such directors as Michael Bay and McG. It’s nonsensical cinematic junk food at its core, but, like the best junk food, it goes down so well and tastes so good that those with a taste for such things should find it absolutely irresistible.