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City of Fights

From Paris With Love (2010)

Rico Torres/Lionsgate

John Travolta descends upon “From Paris With Love” with gale force, sweeping up all the innocuous Luc Besson action-flick chop-shop proceedings in a torrent of flashy overacting. He’s the primary reason to spend time with what is otherwise a standard, thoughtless shoot ’em up. The actor has done the crazy rogue shtick before, but never with quite the mischievous gleam brought to the character of Charlie Wax here.

The rest of the movie, directed by Pierre Morel (“Taken”) from a script by Adi Hasak based on a story by Mr. Besson, is a retrograde look at a couple of secret operatives swept up in a by the numbers terrorist scheme. Set in Paris, it stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as nerdy American James Reese, who works for the U.S. ambassador but dabbles in the life of a secret agent and dreams of a full-time career change. His mysterious phone handler sends him on his first real mission, teaming him with bad boy Charlie Wax and sending them into battle against dapper mobsters, clichéd terrorists and at least one sexy babe.

The picture is retrograde in its plotting, adopting a cut-and-dry premise and collection of antagonists that could well have been lifted from any everyday action picture of the ’80s or ’90s. There’s no strong motivation attached to the bad guys, who are the epitome of straight from central-casting heavies. Meanwhile, the story never gets much attention. “Taken,” no matter how absurdly plotted, presented a credible view of the slick, sleazy side of continental Europe. “From Paris With Love” offers no view, period, beyond that of two classically mismatched partners transforming into codependent buds.

The characters get sent through some ludicrous paces, with every plot development seemingly geared towards setting things up for the next big shootout or explosion. Even as things combust spectacularly — with bad guys being dispatched by the dozens, fireballs shooting into the sky and the filmmaker demonstrate a certain glee in cycling through the standards — “From Paris With Love” is only remotely fun when Mr. Travolta takes center stage, rampaging across the screen.


Opens on Feb. 5 in the United States and on March 5 in Britain.

Directed by Pierre Morel; written by Adi Hasak, based on a story by Luc Besson; director of photography, Michel Abramowicz; edited by Frédéric Thoraval; music by David Buckley; production designer, Jacques Bufnoir; produced by India Osborne and Virginie Besson-Silla; released by Lionsgate. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: John Travolta (Charlie Wax), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (James Reese), Kasia Smutniak (Caroline) and Richard Durden (Ambassador Bennington).


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