Tuesday, June 8, 2010

From Paris With Love

“Talking isn’t gonna get the job done,” a stern John Travolta reminds his gun-shy protégé as he prepares to confront a suicide bomber and stop the terrorists. This neatly encapsulates the politics of From Paris With Love, a big swinging dick of a movie about how diplomacy is for pansies. Shoot first and you don’t even need to bother with the questions. Jack Bauer, never one to hesitate, would surely send this movie from Sprint™ phone to Facebook™ profile before closing his Netflix™ instant streaming queue.

Director Pierre Morel’s previous American-badass-busting-up-Paris actioner Taken also incurred the wrath of astute movie-watchers who don’t like having conservative politics rammed down their throats like a hand towel in the name of the greater good. That film followed Liam Neeson on a torture spree to save his daughter from human traffickers, another plot that draws an easy comparison to the Fox network’s 24.

Where the seventh season of 24 made a laughable effort to respond to its liberal critics by putting its hero before a Senate committee interrogating him about his tendency to torture, From Paris With Love is a similar thematic extrapolation of its predecessor, giving voice to a young agent who believes in diplomacy (he works at the American Embassy in Paris) before blowing a Pakistani’s brains all over his face and showing him the way of the gun.

That hero is Reese, played by Jonathan Rhys-Myers without a hint of irony from the film in regards to his playing a dull American homophone (that irony is reserved for Travolta, who gets an unforgivable “Royale with Cheese” joke). He manages the accent but can only do so much with lines like “Let’s skip dinner and go straight to dessert.” Thankfully, Reese is pulled away very quickly from his diplomatic paper-shuffling (boring!) and his half-naked girlfriend (saucy!) to chase Travolta’s Charlie Wax all over Paris.

Wax has been partnered with Reese, for whom this world-saving mission is actually a training op. Don’t let that confuse you: it is both a world-saving mission and a training op, which is only one of several frightening elements of the plot. They follow coke-dealers to pimps to French thugs who have been sitting around watching La Haine to the terrorists who are mostly Pakistani and all of them brown except for – not a spoiler if you’ve seen this kind of thing before – Reese’s girlfriend, who was in with the bad guys all along.

We can give Morel a gold star for knowing how to keep this kind of thing moving. He does all he can to prevent you from thinking – it’s one of those gunfight-after-fistfight-after-car-chase deals. Taken even as a straight-forward action movie however, two things are lacking. For one, the action itself is dull and includes the most ineptly shot car chase since – well, since Taken. The main issue through the first two acts, however, is a complete lack of stakes. Where Taken got a leg up on the daddy-daughter pathos (that movie works for me, honestly, because of the birthday party prologue), Paris explicitly glazes over the why’s and the why-we-should-care’s. In order to establish a cover at a brothel, Wax forces a fistful of coke up Reese’s nose and in his ensuing mental haze explains the terrorist plot. Neither we nor Reese are able to understand his blurred speech, which culminates with Reese anxiously muttering “Terrorists!” ...I guess “Terrorists!” is all we need to know in America these days, huh?

It’s that “plot twist” through which the film’s politics come blazing to the forefront, because of course Reese would like to find a diplomatic solution to the whole girlfriend/suicide-bomber thing rather than see her shot in the head. I really try to give this the benefit of the doubt, and I’m marginally impressed with a movie that has the cojones to pick a side, any side, and follow through. But the conclusion to this momentarily interesting conflict is, rest assured, dramatically absurd on top of being politically abhorrent. If you were disgusted by Taken, bring a vomit bag.

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