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"FROM PARIS WITH LOVE"
(2010) (John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A U.S. embassy worker -- who moonlights as a covert errand boy for the CIA -- finds himself in over his head when he's paired with a profane, take-no-prisoners American agent who shoots off his mouth as much as his gun as they try to thwart a terrorist attack in Paris.
PLOT:
James Reece (JONATHAN RHYS MEYERS) is an assistant to U.S. Ambassador Bennington (RICHARD DURDEN) in Paris, and has a beautiful girlfriend in Caroline (KASIA SMUTNIAK), but covertly works as an errand boy of sorts for the CIA, switching license plates on suspects' cars, planting bugs and such. He would love to become a full operative and gets that chance when he's paired with American agent Charlie Wax (JOHN TRAVOLTA) who's arrived in Paris. Just as likely to shoot off his mouth as he is any number of guns, Charlie first claims he's been assigned to shut down a drug ring responsible for the overdose of a Cabinet Secretary's niece.

But as the bodies quickly start piling up, James begins to wonder if something a little more important is at play. With Caroline upset that he's off gallivanting around with Charlie, the aspiring agency operative finds himself in the middle of a dangerous mission, way over his head, as Charlie efficiently kills anyone in their way of finding and preventing a terrorist attack.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
If there's an actor whose career has been all over the board, it's John Travolta. After bursting onto the scene with the TV sitcom "Welcome Back Kotter," he quickly segued to mega superstar with "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease." That was followed by varying degrees of success in other projects and then a fall from grace before being rescued by Quentin Tarantino in "Pulp Fiction." That was similarly followed by hits and misses, with more of the latter than the former of recent.

Since it hasn't been released yet, it's too early to tell if "From Paris With Love" will fall into the hit or failure category (or somewhere in between). While it's clearly far from the actor's best work, it also isn't the worst. But it's certainly the best thing in this derivative action pic from director Pierre Morel who made a small but decent impression with his 2004 debut film, "District B13" and then joined the ranks of hit filmmaker with last year's revenge-based action movie, "Taken."

Working from Adi Hasak's screenplay adaptation from producer Luc Besson's story (that must have been scribbled on a napkin as that's about as much space as would be needed), Morel continues in the action vein, and fans of frenetic shootouts, fight sequences, high speed car chases and such will probably find enough here to satiate their tastes for such onscreen mayhem.

That said, there's really nothing new to any of that as we've pretty such seen the same or fairly close countless times before in similarly constructed flicks. And while it might not be the most heavily edited film I've ever seen, it certainly uses too many quick cuts in attempts to make the action seem more exciting than it really is.

It certainly doesn't help that the plot is of the bare bones variety. Simply put, a wannabe CIA operative (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) finds himself in over his head -- not to mention knee-deep in bullets and death -- when he's promoted from secretive license plate changer and surveillance bug planter to full-fledged partner of the loose cannon agent played by Travolta.

Their mission to stop a terrorist threat somehow segues from battling Asian drug dealers and their thugs to Middle Eastern types -- the connection is threadbare at best and barely explained -- but the meager storyline is simply the framework upon which Morel and company hang one action sequence after the next, interspersed with the intended odd couple comedy pairing of the novice and seasoned agency operatives.

The action clearly works better than the comedy which is miles ahead of the unintentionally laughable dramatic moments, but it's Travolta that makes all of it somewhat watchable. The actor is clearly having fun hamming it up, even if he and the film often teeter on the precipice of satire.

While the character isn't any more novel than the action and other surroundings - a sarcastic and foul-mouthed but highly efficient and somehow invincible expert -- Travolta makes him moderately fun to behold. There's even a connective reference to one of the actor's past iconic roles, almost suggesting that former character somewhat but certainly not entirely cleaned up his act but continued in something along the same line of work.

The pairing with Meyers, however, doesn't work as well as intended. Although it provides Travolta with some fun lines of dialogue and entertaining moments of letting the rookie experience this coveted line of work before saving his butt when necessary, the chemistry between the two characters isn't there enough to make us want to see these two paired together again.

The chemistry is hotter between Meyers and Kasia Smutniak playing his gorgeous girlfriend, but considering his line of work and her deep love for him, you just know they're not likely going to be doing the happily ever after thing. Richard Durden plays his U.S. Ambassador boss who's in the dark about his moonlighting, but everyone else is relegated to cardboard character status (mostly villains, thugs and such), make zero impression and are present simply as targets for Travolta's blazing guns.

Yet another pic that feels like a video game, "From Paris With Love" (a play on the title of an old James Bond film), might sound like a romance or at least a romantic comedy flick. But this is an action film (with little bits of humor thrown in) through and through, and a fairly mediocre one at that. It rates as a generous 4 out of 10.




Reviewed February 2, 2010 / Posted February 5, 2010


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