Luc Besson has been the force behind quite a few enjoyable films, including La Femme Nikita (1991), The Professional (1994) and The Fifth Element (1997). So, when I heard he had written the story for From Paris with Love, I figured it was worth checking out.
Of course, as happens so many times, we were unable to see the film in theaters. Recently, however, it arrived on NetFlix® instant viewing. I couldn’t wait to find out if this was going to be another gem from Besson. Or if Travolta and Rhys-Meyers were going to screw it up somehow.
Ever since his “rebirth” in Pulp Fiction (1994), John Travolta has taken advantage of his renewed popularity in a variety of films, be it bizarre (Hairspray (2007)), funny (Get Shorty (1995)) or animated (Bolt (2008)). In From Paris with Love, he not only imitates Bruce Willis’ bald pate, he tries to play the wise-cracking, action fighter Willis made famous with Die Hard (1988). Unfortunately, while Travolta is occasionally entertaining in From Paris with Love, he doesn’t have the witty repartee that Willis boasted. He just comes off looking like second best.
He is a good choice for the character, however, as he comes off like the big uncouth American he’s supposed to be. He does get a chance to show he’s pretty good at the action bit, but he just doesn’t mix well with his more refined co-stars. The camaraderie between him and his new partner/driver, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, always feels forced.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who did a decent job as part of the IMF team in Mission: Impossible III (2006), on the other hand, starts off calm and cool, but slowly deteriorates throughout the film. His best moments are when he’s smoothly excusing himself to clandestinely switch plates on a car near the beginning of the film. Unfortunately, as he goes completely out of his depth with new partner Travolta, he seems to leave his acting prowess behind as well. His acting is so off it culminates in a “read-from-cue-cards” feel to his speech during the climactic moments in the film.
The action itself is pretty entertaining, and should get most action junkies’ blood boiling, thanks to a fuselage of gunfire and mayhem strewn capriciously throughout the film. But most will only shake their heads in chagrin when point-blank shots seem to miss our heroes by miles while those same heroes can fire wild shots that hit each and every target easily. Since no radar-guided weaponry or force fields are ever mentioned, the fault seems to go to the cinematographer. They could have easily made those shots seem a bit more, well…realistic isn’t the right term, but at least a bit less ridiculously obvious.
The culture clash aspect of this odd couple/buddy cop flick is given some fresh appeal thanks to the script. It gives viewers a chance to basically tag along for a wild shooting spree in a foreign country with some gun-happy yo-yos. The public expects a bit more than an action-for-the-sake-of-action flick from writer Luc Besson, however, so may end up a bit disappointed with From Paris with Love.
While Rhys Meyers’ degenerating acting skills help ruin critical moments in the script, it’s still fun watching a chrome-domed Travolta tear his way through the streets of France. That’s especially true when he gets to strap on a rocket launcher along the way. Unfortunately, his charisma and wit that made his character Chili Palmer so refreshing in Get Shorty (1995) have all but deserted him (save for a tongue-in-cheek Pulp Fiction (1994) “royale with cheese” homage). Sadley, he never really manages to free himself from Willis’ obvious shadow.
Start with some stony acting from Rhys Meyers. Toss in a not-quite-as-fun-as-expected performance from Travolta. Add in some rather obvious bullet-eluding from the heroes during the multitude of action junkie-endorsed sequences. Mix with a script that tries to give it an extra twist to separate itself from the rest of the mundane action flicks, but never manages to do it. Put it all together, and From Paris with Love just isn’t quite the action thriller flick viewers are hoping for.