Ah, now here’s a movie that gets the hyper-edited action right. Of course, you can’t ask for too much: Pierre Morel’s From Paris with Love is all loud action and a louder John Travolta performance, and precious little of anything else. But hey, at least it’s competently filmed, and with junk like The A-Team masquerading as a Summer Blockbuster, sometimes that’s all you can hope for.
Just don’t go in expecting anything extraordinary; Paris doesn’t have the gripping revenge-themed plot of Morel’s last film, the surprise hit Taken, or the kinetic all-out action of his first, District 13. But it does have plenty of action, and here’s a twist: despite the fact that it’s edited within an inch of its life (to hide the fact that no, John Travolta is not an action star) I could actually decipher the action scenes and kinda-sorta tell what’s going on. The plot I’m not so sure about, but hey, one step at a time.
Jonathan Rhys-Myers stars as James Reece, an Ambassador’s aide in Paris who doubles as a CIA operative. He’s into low-level stuff – switching license plates, tailing suspects – but dreams of a promotion into seeing some real action, a dream his beautiful girlfriend Caroline (Kasia Smutniak) seems to support; she doesn’t even mind when he takes a work call right after she proposes to him.
That call from the office is the promotion James is looking for; no details on his assignment, but he’s off to the airport to meet his partner, Charlie Wax (Travolta), who has been detained after refusing to leave his backpack full of energy drinks behind. Soon the two of them are racing down Paris streets, shooting up Chinese restaurants, chasing down drug dealers.
Wait, so what’s their assignment? James is kept mostly in the dark, and so are we (a friend’s daughter overdosed on cocaine, Wax tells him, but James doesn’t buy it.) Paris keeps up the manic pace for a while, and it can be fun watching the mindless action with no pretension of a story of any significance to back it up. But eventually we need (or expect) some exposition, and when it finally does kick in, it isn’t exactly satisfying (let alone logical).
But From Paris with Love – just like Morel’s previous two films – moves at a fast enough pace that we don’t have much time to consider the story until the very end. And till then, the action is enjoyable enough in its own right for the film to skate by. I can’t stress this enough, the action scenes are competently filmed.
Travolta devours the role of Charlie Wax – wild, energetic, caustic; he lights up the screen whenever he’s around. In a nod to Pulp Fiction, he even talks about his favorite food, a “royale with cheese.” Rhys-Myers is fine, if completely overshadowed; it’s a much different film in terms of tone, but he and Travolta share the same kind of relationship Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington did in Training Day.
Is there enough in From Paris with Love to make it a good movie? No. Enough to make it a mindlessly entertaining 90 minutes? Absolutely.