If you’re the type of person who hopes to gather some sort of profound life lesson from every film you watch, don’t see “From Paris with Love.” Like director Pierre Morel’s previous film “Taken,” the plot thread is far-fetched, the kill count is astronomical to the point of absurdity and the ending is too predictable to merit much more than a vacant sigh. Even so, “Taken” and “Paris” both share the advantage of being damn good (albeit guilty) fun.
“From Paris with Love”
At Quality 16 and Showcase
James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, “August Rush”) works as a covert operative in Paris. Though his position as a CIA errand-runner seems menial to him, he couldn’t be happier with the love of his life, a French woman named Caroline (Kasia Smutniak, “Barbarossa”). After he implores the Agency to promote him, he is paired with Special Agent Charlie Wax (John Travolta, “The Taking of Pelham 123″) with the promise that he’ll be granted a promotion for doing odd jobs as Wax’s escort. Travolta does an excellent job with his portrayal of a vigilante cop whose excessive bravado combines Dirty Harry and Elmer Fudd. And let’s not forget the frequent one-line quips that would make even Bruce Willis shudder with repulsion.
Wax resembles a hybrid between a skinhead and a Prince fan — the single garish bangle earring that adorns his left ear paints a perfect picture of pastiche, but not without the aid of his multiple large rings, imposing chin strap and tight-fitting leather jacket. There’s even a nostalgic reference to the “Royale with cheese,” an allusion that any film lover acquainted with Tarantino will greatly appreciate.
But what really sets “Paris” apart is its ability to recognize and mock its own hyperbole. It’s endearingly reflexive, and its witty self-deprecation doesn’t seem desperate for laughs. At the conclusion of one of Wax’s many stylized rampages, he triumphantly announces to his one surviving victim, “Just remember one thing: Wax on, wax off.” Just when we’re afraid that the film actually expects us to laugh at such an absurd slogan, Reece steps in to mock his partner’s inapt speech.
“From Paris with Love” is in every way a buddy film, and it’s rare to see such good chemistry between the buddies, especially in a genre rife with rehashing. It’s really the perfect balance: Reece keeps Wax’s overflowing ’80s masculinity in check, and Wax acclimates Reece to the world of frenetic excitement he so passionately craves.
Though by no means worthy of widespread critical acclaim — it’s just too formulaic — “Paris” continues Morel’s tradition of thrillingly shallow films. If you ever find yourself feeling a bit empty-headed, enjoy a matinee discount screening of this movie and bathe in its condemnable pleasure.