A government agent's (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) desire to shine beyond the shadows of his profession comes true when he is paired with his new partner in crime – Wax (John Travolta). As the two tear through Paris on an anti-terrorism peace mission, our young agent discovers the deadliest weapons are the one we love the most.

Travolta stuffs it up, again.

Pierre Morel’s surprise hit Taken and his latest film, From Paris with Love, have a few things in common: both are ultra-violent, following a single-minded protagonist, and set in the French capital. But there the similarities end.

While the French cinematographer-turned director’s first Hollywood film was a thrilling ride from start to finish and semi-believable thanks to Liam Neeson’s prowess, From Paris With Love is mindless, ludicrously lacking in logic, and boringly predictable.

No wonder the formulaic actioner starring John Travolta and a miscast Jonathan Rhys Meyers had a soft opening in the US last weekend, another misfire for Travolta after Old Dogs and The Taking of Pelham 123.

The first 15 minutes of the movie scripted by Adi Hasak (based on a story by Luc Besson), is ominously uneventful, establishing Rhys Meyers’ James Reese as a low-level CIA operative who doubles as an aide to the US Ambassador in France (a colourless Richard Durden). Aspiring to be a super-spy, Reese is such a klutz he can’t even stick a bug under a subject’s desk without it falling off. He does, however, speak several languages and he has a hot French girlfriend (Polish-born Kasia Smutniak).

The film finally hits second gear with the arrival of Travolta’s special agent Charlie Wax, a bald-headed, foul-mouthed, goatee-wearing, amoral caricature of a bad ass supposedly working for the good guys, with whom Reese is paired. Wax first claims his mission is to wipe out, literally, a drug smuggling gang, then admits he’s really intent on smashing a terrorist group; why lie to his junior colleague?

From there the body counts rises comically as Wax and Reese, the latter inexplicably carrying a blue vase filled with cocaine they’d seized, lay waste to a procession of villains of Chinese and Pakistani origin (flat-out racism is another of this film’s unlovely traits). Wax whacks people, guilty or innocent, with no forethought or a glimmer of conscience.

Meanwhile David Buckley’s thunderous soundtrack pounds away, even when there’s little or nothing of consequence happening on screen. There’s the inevitable highway chase and the threat of a suicide bomber en route to a climax which will surprise no one. Morel orchestrates the mayhem with the visual flair he’d shown in his previous film, but evidently he wasn’t smart enough to address the deficiencies in the script and acting.

At 56, Travolta really is getting too old to be plausible in attempting this action-man routine although he looks like he’s enjoying himself, even if the audience won’t reciprocate. Just what attracted Rhys Meyers, who built his reputation with classy work in Match Point, Vanity Fair and TV’s The Tudors, to this kind of dreck is a mystery.

According to the production notes, he wanted to work with Morel and Besson after watching Taken, and to play a character who has a child-like idea about what spying entails, until he discovers that kind of life is 'very dirty and bloody and messy and disgusting – the real world." All those adjectives describe the film, except for the 'real' bit.


1 hour 32 min
In Cinemas 18 February 2010,
Wed, 08/25/2010 - 11