Saturday, February 20, 2010

'From Paris with Love' is formula fromage with a bite

“From Paris with Love” is the latest action film from Luc Besson, the French filmmaker who does American-style action films better than most Americans. As with many, but not all, of the works associated with his name, this is a movie with little substance, but a lot of pure, visceral fun.

Besson as either writer, producer or director has made such films as "The Professional," “The Fifth Element,” “The Transporter” series, the underrated “Unleashed” and last year's “Taken.” Although his films are typically set in Paris, his films are usually in English.

Here Besson takes on the role of producer and story handing over the directing to “Taken” director Pierre Morel and the screenwriting to Adi Hasak. Although different in tone from “Taken,” it follows the same structure: A brief prologue sets up an excuse for nearly non-stop action and then said action commences.

The set-up is that Jonathan Rhys Meyers is the assistant to the U.S. ambassador, who lives a double life as a lowly CIA operative. This uptight would-be spy gets his chance to prove his mettle when he's hooked up with an unorthodox wild-man of a super agent (John Travolta). Together this mismatched duo will banter back and forth and prevent a terrorist attack.

This is a formula genre film through and through, but there's nothing wrong with that if the film engages within the confines of its formula. “From Paris with Love” is essentially “Lethal Weapon” in Paris.

The film works thanks to some cracking dialogue and a clever script by Hasak, whose only other credit is a film from 1997 called “Shadow Conspiracy.” Don't worry, there's a reason you haven't heard of it. Clearly, the 13-year gap between scripts did him well.

At the center of the film is a bald Travolta giving his best, most entertaining performance in years. He has a maniac energy that powers the film. He spits out quips as fast as the many rounds of bullets that he fires at the never-ending stream of faceless enemies.

Travolta is an actor whose career has some Everest-like peaks and some Death Valley-like lows. For the last decade, he's been trying to climb out of the valley that “Battlefield Earth” sent him to. The last few years he has been making progress getting back to the top of his game most notably with his cross-dressing turn in “Hairspray” and in last year's “The Taking of Pelham 123.”

“From Paris with Love” is a reminder of just how good he can truly be and how much fun and magnet of a screen presence he can be when he lets loose all of amble charms.

Rhys Meyers, perhaps best known as King Henry VIII on HBO's “Tudors,” is a good balance for Travolta and they play off each other nicely, but unfortunately the Irish-born actor struggles with an American accent. Still, although not necessarily a perfect fit, he gets the job done.

As with “Taken,” Morel proves to be a competent director of a fast-paced action. There are no stunning set pieces, but the action is well executed and exciting while watching it. This is video game style action where the bad guys pop up and the good guys shoot them. It can get old very quickly, but to Morel's credit he keeps things moving and interesting.

This is a popcorn movie and it is proud of it. It doesn't pretend to be anything else. It is a fun, undemanding 90 minutes. Check your brain and enjoy.

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