Legendary French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard once said, “All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun.” Twenty years later, it seems his fellow Frenchmen, director Olivier Megaton (“Transporter 3”) and producer Luc Besson (“From Paris with Love”), have taken those words a little too closely to heart. Their latest film, “Colombiana,” has a girl who has a bunch of guns. What it lacks however, are all the things Godard forgot to mention — originality, believable dialogue and consistency.
At Quality 16 and Rave
Our heroine, Cataleya (Zoe Saldana, “Avatar”), had her parents violently murdered in front of her at a young age, and so she belongs to that overused class of stock character. Since she’s in an action movie, this means she’ll grow up to be a trained killer lusting after revenge. And sure enough, she hops off to Chicago to take murder classes with her uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis, “Live Free or Die Hard”). The next time we see her, she’s a fully grown hit woman, executing contract killings in a precise, impeccably planned fashion and signing victims with her trademark orchid.
There’re a few B-movie flaws right off the bat. All the guys she turns into corpses happen to be scumbags who totally deserve it because they had something to do with killing her parents or harming a lot of people, so we can feel good about cheering as Cataleya slaughters them. Her eye-catching, guilty-pleasure work clothes, which include hooker outfits and formfitting sweat suits, hint at some deep-seated daddy issues but are nevertheless fun to stare at. And there are the French actors brought in, ostensibly on a budget, to play Americans — leading to a lot of half-European, half-almost-American accents that grate annoyingly on the ears.
If that were all, it’d still be a fairly entertaining movie. Traditionally, movies from guys like Megaton and Besson are cheap and gritty, hackneyed and imitative. But at the same time, their combined filmography, which includes part of “The Transporter” franchise, is for the most part honest and entertaining. Audiences know exactly what they’re getting — sex, violence, explosions, fights — and what they’re not getting — subtlety, realism and emotional involvement.
“Colombiana,” however, is also tone deaf and schizophrenic. One minute, it’s got a callous, unintentionally funny disregard for human life, imitating but never quite achieving the crazy energy that makes Jason Statham movies so enjoyable. Emilio tries to teach a young Cataleya the importance of a genuine school education by killing a random driver in broad daylight with an obnoxiously large revolver. One of Cataleya’s targets winds up gruesomely fed to his own pet sharks.
And then all of a sudden the movie degenerates into an overly sensitive sob-fest. Emilio, who we’ve now established as some sort of lunatic (Curtis’s Al Pacino impression certainly helps), is suddenly giving long archetypal speeches about how his son was murdered and all the murder and killing he did in return still couldn’t bring his kid back to life. Cataleya cries rivers over her dead parents. She keeps crying because her boyfriend/booty call, who doesn’t even know her real name, wants to try a serious relationship, and that obviously won’t work because she kills people for a living.
A little emotional investment is a good thing in a movie, but it only works when you genuinely care about the characters, whose dialogue isn’t cloned from every other gangster/crime movie ever made. And in “Colombiana,” Megaton’s attempts at adding some depth to his movie backfire tremendously, turning a perfectly serviceable low-budget thriller into a disorganized, atonal mess.