With John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, drug content, pervasive language and brief sexuality. 92 minutes.
According to the opening credits, FROM PARIS WITH LOVE is based on a story by Luc Besson, but this is just window dressing. In fact the story is an odd mixture of “Judgment Day,” “Rush Hour” and “The In-Laws,” in which an odd couple are thrown together for mayhem and the occasional laugh. The high body count exceeds the joke count, but there are some laughs along the way.
When we first meet James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), he works in the U.S. Embassy in Paris. As a sideline, he performs tasks for an unnamed espionage organization, presumably the CIA. He’d love to be a real spy, but as we see when he repeatedly tries to bug a French official’s office with a transmitter and some chewing gum, he’s a bit out of his depth. Enter Charlie Wax (John Travolta with a goatee and a shaved head) who is a loose cannon. Reece has been assigned to be his “partner” for an ill-defined assignment in Paris, and he’s soon trying to keep up with Wax while not tripping over the bodies he leaves in his wake.
As mindless action, this is sort of fun. A scene might begin quietly but Wax then opens fire – seemingly at random – only to be proved correct that they are surrounded by deadly enemy agents. At one point, Wax has Reece carry a large Chinese vase filled with cocaine, which only adds to the absurdity of a plot that involves drugs, terrorism, and double agents. By the time we get to the real conspiracy Wax is trying to uncover, logic no longer matters. We’re simply trying to get from one shootout to the next, wondering if Reece has what it takes to be the field agent he wants to be.
After the painfully unfunny “Old Dogs” last fall, it’s nice to see Travolta enjoying a role and letting us in on the fun. His unflappable character is strictly a movie fantasy, and so when there’s an arch reference to his role in “Pulp Fiction,” it’s a wink that the audience can enjoy Charlie Wax has been built with a back story and the potential for future adventures, so this is a character Travolta may get to play again.
Rhys Meyers has the “straight man” role, getting to react to the outrageous goings on and finally coming to share Wax’s point-of-view. The big plot twist is preposterous, but Rhys Meyers bravely soldiers on as if this is one of his more serious roles. It fits the character, but if there is a sequel look for his character either to evolve or otherwise be written out of the story.
The real draw here is the action, with lots of shootings, several explosions and a final showdown which will no doubt give offense to several groups. “From Paris With Love,” like TV’s “24” and last year’s “Taken” (also by this film’s director Pierre Morel), is a violent action fantasy that can border on the cartoonish. Those who have no use for such things may safely give it a pass.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.