There’s a certain generation to whom John Travolta can do no wrong. For example, my father, who is a wonderful man, sees John Travolta as a kindred spirit. Maybe it’s Grease, or maybe it’s Welcome Back, Kotter, or maybe it’s Saturday Night Fever. No matter what it might be, he’s a huge Travolta fan. As for me, I come and go on the subject of John Travolta. My dad and I are never going to agree on, say, Pulp Fiction (I loved it, Dad didn’t), but we were both in agreement that From Paris With Love was surprisingly good.
James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is as by the book an official as you could possibly hope to meet. He does everything right, and as an official of the US State Department, he does it as inoffensively and discreetly as possible. However, he wants to grow up to be a spook, and as such, gets a variety of demeaning and easy jobs to carry him down that career path. That is, until he meets one Charlie Wax (John Travolta), who is as big, loud, and obnoxious an American CIA agent as you could ever hope to meet.
When James gets assigned to be Charlie’s partner during a mission in the streets of Paris, watch out. It’s like The Odd Couple, but one of them kills dozens of people!
As action movie guys go, Luc Besson is one of the best ones in the business. Whether he’s producing, directing, or writing, if his name is somewhere in the credits, you’re probably going to be in for a damned entertaining time. It might not be the smartest movie experience, but it’s definitely going to be good, and his second film with Pierre Morel proves to be a staggeringly entertaining action-comedy the likes of which Besson has specialized in since he broke into the movie world with The Professional (aka Léon).
While it’s not exactly on the level of Crank or The Transporter, it’s still very entertaining, thanks to the utter charm and fun Travolta brings to his role as Charlie Wax. You can tell he’s having fun rampaging through the streets of Paris gunning down thugs and drug dealers, and because he’s having fun, the audience has fun watching him. Myers is appropriately straight-laced as the uptight Reece, which is the key component in any Lethal Weapon-style odd couple of agents/cops/what-have-you.
There’s a certain infectious charm to him as he goes about his business, reinforced by a surprisingly fun script from Adi Hasak from a Besson story. While it does get bogged down a bit in the melodrama between Reece and his girlfriend Caroline (Kasia Smutniak), it doesn’t linger too much on that story, and it eventually becomes a crucial plot point tying back into an earlier tale from Charlie to Reece. It’s not terribly original, nor is it terribly smart, but it’s nothing if not entertaining. You can see Luc Besson’s subtle fingerprints all over it.
Still, the direction of Pierre Morel seems to be getting better with every passing movie. While this one isn’t as good as, say, Taken, it’s still on the level of Banlieue 13, his directorial debut, and there’s nothing flawed about this movie. The action scenes are pretty entertaining, the movie moves pretty quickly, and there’s no worries about political correctness or intelligence getting in the way of the stuff getting shot, blown up, or snorted out of a vase. There’s a few slower parts, and parts where the jokes thud, but he didn’t write it and it’s more consistent than District B13 was in terms of having something always going on.
This is far from a smart man’s action movie. Far from it. Still, there’s a certain amount of brainless wit in From Paris With Love that goes along with embracing 30 years of action movie clichés and buddy-cop scenarios that doesn’t help but charm the viewer.
The fact that all involved seem to be having way too much fun really helps matters. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a treat for those who like wit and gun play.