Reviews

In 'From Paris with Love' Dir. Morel's Action Scenes and '90s References are Far From Subtle

Come back to us, Jerry Bruckheimer! From Paris with Love is so fun-minded that it lacks any tension, even in its serious bits.


From Paris with Love

Director: Pierre Morel
Cast: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak, Richard Durden
Distributor: Lionsgate
US DVD release date: 2010-06-08
UK DVD release date: 2010-08-02

With Jerry Bruckheimer concentrating on family-friendly adventures like Prince of Persia, an action movie void has opened: who will produce energetic, derivative, high-gloss, star-driven junk like the Gone in 60 Seconds and Con Airs of yore? Luc Besson, trash prince of Canal Plus, has heroically volunteered.

Besson has always been a prolific writer-producer-director, but with the success of Taken, a European production that nonetheless banked on Americans' fear of seedy overseas wastelands like, um, Paris, he has positioned himself as a sort of Bruckheimer on the cheap. The brand isn't quite so decadent – his Transporter series, for example, maintains the unpretentious utility of a top-notch-yet-low-rent James Bond knockoff – but with Bruckheimer himself looking for the next big theme park ride, Besson can afford to work in approximation.

From Paris with Love, which like Taken is directed by Pierre Morel from a Besson brainstorm, continues in that vein, not least through the hiring of Bruckheimer-sized movie star John Travolta. Travolta plays super-spy Charlie Wax, whose name you will not forget, not because Wax is a memorable character, but because his mild-mannered partner James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) repeats the name "Wax" in about half of his lines, as if participating in product placement.

For Wax, Travolta slips into the high-pitched imitation of machismo he used for Broken Arrow, Face/Off, and Swordfish, among others (yet never for an actual Bruckheimer production!); the only difference here is that Wax is a flamboyant, over-the-top good guy, not a cartoonish evildoer. He leads Reece, an ambassador's aide desperate to break into the spy world, on a sloppy run through the City of Lights, punctuated with sequences that are supposed to be shoot-outs, but play a bit more like drive-by shootings, with Travolta as the car. (His merry huskiness makes the customary slow-mo shots weirdly believable).

This grinning amorality in pursuit of terrorists is probably established enough in action-movie lore to be considered timeless (or at least depressingly commonplace), but Morel and his writers still manage to evoke '90s action posturing with overwrought imitation-Woo action and overwritten imitation-Tarantino dialogue, complete with asides about language and pop culture. Travolta even quotes his own "Royale with cheese" line from Pulp Fiction; shameless and sort of sad, yes, but it at least provides a moment of cheek not wholly dependent on lip-smacking, graceless profanities.

Like many a Michael Bay movie, From Paris with Love turns histrionic with drama for its final stretch and, like many a Michael Bay movie, this technique manages to make its initial attempt at sociopathic jauntiness seem preferable. As with the movie's big-budget cousins, this is all done in the name of fun. Morel invokes that other f-word throughout his technically-minded, intermittent DVD commentary. He watches his own film with mild amusement, dutifully pointing out the obvious John Woo homages, the work of a dedicated special effects crew, and the "cool scenes" (Morel is, admittedly, a competent action director and, unlike Bay, sounds less than bombastic about his modest skill set).

From Paris with Love is so fun-minded, in fact, that it lacks any tension, even in its serious bits; it can't even pander correctly. Despite the European setting, Morel and Besson still make plenty of concessions to US audiences, saddling Jonathan Rhys Meyers with one of those ridiculous accents that result when a British actor has to flatten his voice into faux-American tones, then adding a surprise twist: Reece is supposed to be from Brooklyn, too! (Double twist: he hails from East New York). The movie's scaled-down, budget version of terrorism doesn't lend the movie grit so much as a puzzling sense that it may be illusory, as if the whole movie could turn out to be some kind of Charlie Wax long-con.

But the only con is the idea that '90s-style adult-oriented action trash (secretly aimed at the immature and the immature-at-heart) is easy to imitate. Besson remains better at designing Euro-Asian hybrids like The Transporter than the star-driven likes of Taken and Paris. Come back to us, Jerry Bruckheimer! Bring Nicolas Cage with you!

3

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image