From Paris With Love
Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent — Isaac Asimov
Luc Besson is credited with the “story” for this violent comic book of a thriller that is an insult to Paris. Years ago, Besson wrote Le Dernier Combat and The Fifth Element, flicks that are still worth seeing. He either wrote From Paris With Love in one second on the back of a postage stamp, is imaginatively bankrupt, or really needs the money. (All three perhaps?) Here’s the so-called story.
James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), personal assistant to the American ambassador in Paris, dabbles in tame black ops, such as clandestinely swapping license plates. One day, Charlie Wax (John Travolta, gun in one hand, ham in the other) arrives from the States for some extra-special ops, and Reece gets to be his partner. You can tell Wax is a badass because he’s built like a wrestler, has a bald head and black goatee, and cusses out French Customs. Sure enough, Wax is not in Gay Paree two minutes before he annihilates a Chinese restaurant, walks off with a vase full of cocaine, punches out six gnarly Asians at once, and announces plot points (how postmodern!). He proceeds to liquidate Paki terrorists. Yes, “Paki,” because that's how Wax talks, spouting racist jive that we’re apparently supposed to think is jocular because, you know, it’s Travolta, and he can so do glib-cutesypoo-charming-funny while mowing down foreign baddies. That’s acting for you. Hah-hah.
Reese, downright priggish on mayhem and slaughter, reproves Wax’s methods. Not to worry. He is bound to come-on-over to righteous American slo-mo killing. What happens, see, is that Reece gets blood on his face from an offed terrorist and then observes himself in a mirror. (Get it?! He sees himself baptized in blood!) Consequently, he begins to male bond with Wax. In the end, Reece proves he is a pistol-packing man—just like Wax has taught him to be—so much an hombre, in fact, that he can shoot his girlfriend and strut off to play chess with Wax. Yup, that's Reece’s character arc: He changes from being reticent about killing to wholeheartedly embracing it.
Admittedly, the fight and slow motion sequences are crisply edited, but the narrative is just one set piece after another of shoot kill, shoot kill, kill kill kill. That’s why the film exists. The many males and couple of females gunned down are nearly all swarthy or almond-eyed types. Beaucoup spurting blood squibs interspersed with jokes accompany les massacres. Thus the rancidity of the violent, big-American-star, buddy film is on display once again.
You will notice I’m not disposed to speak well of From Paris With Love. Alas, honesty compels me to note that near the end of the second act there is a car chase. From The Keystone Cops to Bullitt and beyond, car chases are a worthy subset of film genres. In this “how-did-they-do-that?” chase, Travolta/Wax, clutching a bazooka, hangs out the side window of a monster silver Audi doing about 150mph (flagrantly effective product placement). Wax needs a clear bead on a car in front so he can blow it to smithereens. The road is a European super highway, so the other cars all around are zipping right along, too. The pursuit swerves between comical and death defying. Whichever, it’s a knuckle-biting gas and up there with the best car chases ever on film.
But is a great car chase a good enough reason to watch a stupid, ugly film that makes yet another spectacle of killing people? Perhaps Luc Besson and everyone associated with this dross may still be perceptive enough to discern a rhetorical question when they encounter one.