The new hyperspeed action movie “From Paris With Love,” starring John Travolta as a bald, goateed, and leather-jacketed U.S. FBI agent named Charlie Wax, is so dumb—so obnoxiously over the top, so asinine—that you have to wonder if Travolta knew what kind of a movie he was in and tailored his performance to match.
Well, whatever the reason, I for one am glad that Travolta went the route he did with his “portrayal.”
On one hand, Travolta is the only thing in the movie worth watching.
The film is a standard late-80s buddy movie with one crazy cop who cracks wise and kills people nonchalantly but with amazing proficiency and flair (Travolta, of course) and one wet-behind-the-ears eager-to-please newbie (Jonathan Rhys Meyers ) who’s along for the ride.
It takes place in the Parisian underworld, but the movie could have really been shot anywhere, since there is no actual cultural reason for the film to be set in Paris other than an excuse to take a nonsensical ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower. (Even then, couldn’t producer Luc Besson have staged a thrilling fight sequence up there?)
The plot itself (something to do with Pakistani terrorists) is an excuse to stage one shootout after another, each with one small twist meant to make up for the rest of the scene’s complete lack of originality. For instance, there is a shootout in a restaurant—but—it’s the wait staff and cooks that are doing the shooting!
Director Pierre Morrel (“Taken”) tries to make the most of these small pleasures and mercifully keeps the film at a brisk 90 minutes with little time for the audience to catch up and think about the story. But with the exception of one novel and fairly funny action sequence that features the “fallout” from Travolta climbing a spiral staircase, it all becomes so much smoke and bullets.
So again—as bad as he is, as campy as he plays it—Travolta is the only thing in the movie worth watching.
What I love about movies is that they sometimes work better on a level that wasn’t necessarily intended by the filmmakers. Since this was co-written and produced by Besson (the man behind the silly-violent “Transporter” and “Taxi” franchises), I’m assuming a certain level of camp was intended. But mainstream American audiences don’t go for that. So there are scenes intended to be serious (where friendship is supposed to be blooming between the polar-opposite agents) that come off as completely insincere and laughable.
Where the movie really breaks down, though, is on that fine line between the movie Travolta thinks he’s in and the movie he’s really in. With 20-years-outdated jokes like “wax on, wax off,” and groaning self-conscious references like “royale with cheese,” Travolta is about as a cool as a pair of oversize MC Hammer parachute pants (which he’d probably be more comfortable in).
He may not be challenging himself remotely as an actor, but he sure looks like he’s having a good time—and in a film with so few other charms, it’s infectious. On the other hand, he’s not convincing in the least.
A man his age with his body type (he’s big!) would never be able to do a quarter of the things he does and nobody would believe that he could. Rather, watching Travolta play Charlie Wax in “From Paris With Love” is not like watching a character in a story. It’s more of an out-of-body experience.
It’s watching an actor ham it up while playing somebody named Charlie Wax, relishing in the fact that he still gets to play the badass and say all this “cool” stuff.
At least somebody was having fun.