Videogame Mentality: Action Post Card from Paris Self-Destructs

City Pulse | February 1, 2010
Videogame Mentality

Action Post Card from Paris Self-Destructs

From Paris with Love (Two Stars) (613 words)

By Cole Smithey

As with Spaghetti Westerns and sit-coms, you know they've jumped the shark when the tone turns to self-mockery. So it is that in one fell swoop John Travolta and suicide bombers have bid audiences their valediction. With Luc Besson's name prominently displayed as its story source, "From Paris With Love" is a shameless shoot 'em up body-count movie with barely enough humor to distract from the pejoratively exploitative nature of its relentlessly bloody action. There is no character or story development here, only innumerable excuses for the seemingly endless homicides that they provide Travolta's impudent trigger-happy CIA hit man Charlie Wax. Waylaid at Charles de Gaulle airport upon his arrival in Paris, Charlie needs wannabe special ops agent Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) to liberate him. "Wax," as his likes to be called, is in town to fulfill a vague mission busting up a Chinese cocaine ring and a Pakistani terrorist cell when he isn't munching on yet another "Royale with cheese"--just like in "Pulp Fiction." Travolta himself is the only other thing this hot-mess-on-a-greased-platter has in common with that astronomically better film. Adi Hasak's screenplay sounds like it was written by a French junior high school kid who just discovered he can curse in English as much as he wants. Wax takes Reese under his itchy wing long enough to teach him the finer points of cold-blooded killing with a "look-no-hands" attitude that comes off as more of an insult than a joke.

I'm the first to admit that I'm a fan of violence in movies. I remember the fallout in Hollywood after David Fincher's "Fight Club" (1999) that limited violence in mainstream movies for about three years. Those were some sad years. But I'm also sensitive to violence when it's served up as an obvious attempt at legitimizing prejudices and promoting a reckless approach for already trigger-happy civil servants to follow.

John Travolta's Wax represents everything that foreigners abhor about the American male identity. Wax is a big mouth bad-ass who grooves on his own fast-twitch instability to do a renegade job of crime-fighting. Reese figures that Wax kills about one person every hour that they are together. The actual figure is much higher. Wax is a self-reflexive post-modern stereotype derived all too loosely from his much hipper Vincent in "Pulp Fiction," and lesser so from his FBI agent in John Woo's "Face/Off" (1997). With a shaved head and a carefully manicured goatee, Wax is killing machine whose ruthlessness is cloaked in his frat boy sense of raunchy humor and adolescent tastes. If anything, it's a role that erases the more developed characters Travolta has created within his limited range as an actor over a long career.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers takes a few demerits with an Oakie American accent that evaporates after the first few scenes. Meyers plays Reese with a lightness that validates the film's shallow attempt to replicate the tone of films like "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (2005). Put simply, there's nothing at stake here and no ethical substance to justify the honky-donkey blood letting on display. It isn't fare to an audience to glorify armed attacks on society in the bluntly racist terms that Wax repeatedly uses to describe the "bad guys." It's not a ratings consideration. It's a matter of responsibility. Director Pierre Morel's brand of videogame action is something that denigrates the medium of cinema and elicits a numbed response to its glossy presentation. Reese and Wax aren't fighting for the citizens of Paris, they're fighting against them. With friends like these, you don't need any enemies.

Rated R. 94 mins. (D) (One Star - out of five/no halves)

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