Warning: The words you are about to read are startling, perhaps even unbelievable, but they are shockingly true. "From Paris with Love" is a really enjoyable movie.
Walking into a screening, we were prepared for the worst, but as the film unspooled, we were shocked to discover it was funny (yes, intentionally), thrilling, well-paced and stylish. It isn't "Lawrence of Arabia," but it is a fun 90-minute ride, which is better than what most movie goers can find this February.
"From Paris with Love" follows James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a personal aide to the U.S. Ambassador in France. He's living the good life in Paris with a respectable job and a smoking hot French girlfriend, but what he really wants is be a CIA operative. His one shot depends on his first mission and new partner, Charlie Wax (John Travolta). Soon Chinese restaurants are dissolving into full-blown firefights, flights of stairs are littered with collateral damage and the Eiffel Tower becomes a backdrop for cocaine sniffing.
Directed by Pierre Morel and based on Luc Beeson's story, the film has an easy chumminess perhaps fueled by the pair's own long-standing relationship. Morel was a camera operator on Beeson’s Joan of Arc tale, "The Messenger," the cinematographer on "The Transporter" (which shares some great similarities with "From Paris...") and, in 2008, Beeson wrote and Morel helmed "Taken," the Liam Neeson-starrer whose sequel is currently in development. Both men have a keen understanding of action, interlacing their films with kinetic bullet ballet from the John Woo school while splattering the audience with humor before and after the bloodshed.
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Most of the comedy in their current project comes from Travolta, doing his very best Samuel L. Jackson impression. Once Charlie Wax arrives onscreen, the movie takes off for a ride that soon hits 115 mph, literally, with Travolta hanging out of the window of an Audi trying to bring down the enemy with a rocket propelled grenade launcher.
Sure, Rhys Meyers lacks some acting chops and his preposterous proclamation that he's from the mean streets of the Bronx will undoubtedly draw titters from the audience. Okay, so Travolta looks a little like he's wearing a merkin as a goatee (perhaps one borrowed from the set of Rhys Meyers' day job on "The Tudors"), but he sweeps the audience along in a tsunami of fun from his first audible line about fingers being stuck where the sun don't shine. Look past that stuff, and this film has its own spunky funk that is unexpectedly enjoyable.