Lengthy sequences of a gorgeous, scantily clad Zoe Saldana packing some serious weaponry and kicking all sorts of ass are almost – but not quite – enough to save Olivier Megaton’s Colombiana, which feels like a cross-breed between Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita and Leon: The Professional.
No surprise: Colombiana was written by Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, who previously collaborated on Taken, the Transporter series, and Kiss of the Dragon, which all share a number of similarities with this film.
Hey, if it ain’t broke, right? We don’t seem to get enough half-decent action films these days, let alone ones in the hitman subgenre, and at the very least, Saldana helps Colombiana top the latest Jason Statham offering, The Mechanic. But in-between a good chase at the beginning of the film (which, nevertheless, reminds of a similar scene in Fast Five), and an excellent fight at the end, there’s a whole lot that doesn’t make a lick of sense.
The first 30 minutes, which directly recall Leon, promise something better: after her parents are slaughtered by a drug cartel before her eyes, young Cataleya (Amandla Stenberg) leads the criminals on a chase throughout the slums of Bogotá (Mexico City standing in for the Columbia capital) before ending up at the US Embassy with evidence on an SD card.
With her “passport” to the USA, she’s taken to Miami before escaping federal custody and making her way to her Mafioso uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis) in Chicago. Emilio tries to enroll her in school, but Cataleya wants something else: “I want you to teach me how to become a killer.”
We’ve seen this before, but Stenberg and Curtis are particularly effective as the young girl and her future mentor. The movie has other things on its mind, however, and we flash-forward 20-something years to an adult Cataleya (played by Saldana), now a professional assassin with 22 kills under her belt.
This, unfortunately, gives way to the plot of Colombiana, or rather, the lack thereof. It’s a simple enough revenge tale, with Cataleya seeking revenge on Marco (Jordi Mollà), the man who killed her family, and Don Luis (Beto Benites), the drug lord who gave the orders. They’re in hiding, so naturally Cataleya leaves a calling card on the bodies of her victims to draw them out: an artistic little doodle of a rare flower.
Wait, what? Surely there must be better ways to do this. A note saying, “I’m looking for Don Luis,” maybe. And doesn’t she think of the consequences of drawing them out? Surely, a woman of her means would be able to get some intelligence on Don Luis.
All this waiting around (including some gratuitous sex scenes) to get revenge is one of the more uninvolving action movie storylines imaginable. Even if it did make any sense, there’s barely any forward momentum here.
Unsurprisingly, it takes FBI agent Ross (Lennie James) 22 kills to connect the dots. And then we get endless scenes of FBI agents tracking Cataleya, CIA agents contacting Don Luis, Emilio warning Cataleya about what’s coming, and Danny (Michael Vartan) wondering who, exactly, this mystery woman he keeps having sex with is.
But Colombiana knows what it is, and gives us enough sleek, seductive Saldana eye candy to tide us over before finally delivering the goods in a sequence that includes an excellent DIY hand-to-hand combat scene that makes use of towels, belts, and toothbrushes.
This is only slightly marred by a silly finale involving a couple of Rottweilers, and Don Luis’ tendency to call out to the Jordi Mollà character: “Marco! Marco!” You may have to restrain yourself from shouting “Polo!” in return.
Bonus: Johnny Cash’s rendition of Hurt, which can end any film well even if it’s entirely out of place here.