The best way to cement an actor in Hollywood is with a series character, a persona that goes from film to film and anchors in the subconscious. When one thinks about Matt Damon, a certain Identity comes to mind. Arnold is The Terminator. Can we say Connery, Sean Connery? Then there are actors who are known for not going down this path. Meryl Streep falls in this category. She’s a very known actress but has never repeated a role. John Travolta very much falls into this latter category. Except for Staying Alive… Mr. Saturday Night Fever, Mr. Urban Cowboy, Mr. Grease — has never done a repeat performance. In From Paris With Love, he has a stellar chance to build a brand character he could play for years.
The film starts with James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a diplomatic assistant to the U.S. delegation in France. He is very efficient with his job but wants more. Moonlighting with a clandestine agency, James has been doing low level jobs such as changing license plates and planting bugs in offices. His girlfriend (Kasia Smutniak) always asks what he is doing and he always tells her that it is classified.
In Charlie’s Angels fashion, the telephone rings and he is called upon to ferry an agent around Paris. Then we meet Charlie Wax (John Travolta). He is a balls to the wall, in your face bad MF spy. Round around the belly and bald on top, this is not the classic view of an secret agent. A suave James Bond he is not. When we first meet him, he is arguing with a customs official. It seems that the man won’t let Wax bring his energy drinks into France. Reese shows his usefulness when he slaps a diplomatic tag on the bag. It soon becomes obvious why that bag is so important.
Our guys go to a Chinese restaurant where a giant gun battle occurs and a large amount of cocaine is taken. Wax claims that he is on the trail of a group drug dealers that have political implications. This bob and weave across Paris with the eventual motivations being revealed is what From Paris With Love is all about. In one scene Wax starts killing bad guys and they come cascading down a spiral staircase more like water flowing down a mountain side. Much like Shoot Em Up, this film uses violence for a comedy stake.
Travolta seems in the elements with Wax. He is such a rough and tumble character, but shows a sensitive side on a few occasions. Wax has no problems checking out cocaine in ways that would shock the DEA. His laser beam focus on the mission seems slip-shot at first, but getting to the bottom of everything is the sole aim. This is a much more American answer to spying, up in your grill giving everybody and everything an attitude. Flippant lines just flow from his chrome head.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers is our growing character, the guy who goes from who he is to who he wants to be. Finding out that spying is a dirty business, his Reese experiences the dirty underbelly of what it truly takes to become a hero. Much is made of his intellectual abilities but it is seldom put to use in From Paris With Love.
Director Pierre Morel knows how to frame an action sequence. Fights and explosions rival American productions in both style and technique. The haphazard plot just flows from scene to scene with so little effort that one doesn’t notice the massive script holes. It is all male bonding, tough as nails action that propels this little flick.
Now, From Paris With Love will never win any awards. It is not a film but a movie, a popcorn chewing little bit of escapist entertainment. That is all it’s going for, and it accomplishes its goal.