There’s nothing particularly wrong with From Paris with Love apart from the fact that it hardly makes any sense…or it could merely be that exposition is considered an inconvenience. There’s a loose kind of logic underpinning the body count, but a week after watching it, you’ll have long forgotten what that logic was. Even the protagonist, himself, is left largely in the dark about the proceedings to which he’s made a somewhat passive party, as he is never debriefed, and his partner feeds him one seemingly tall-tale after the next.
Is it drugs? Terrorism? Are the villains Chinese? Pakistanis? Well…really, who cares? People who get hung up on these issues have utterly missed the point. The characters might very well be fighting Martians–the faceless villains are merely a means to an end.
Ultimately, the reason this film works is because the script is largely disposable. From Paris with Love is purely an excuse to do an espionage-themed buddy comedy in which a barely recognizable John Travolta ravenously chews the scenery to hilarious effect, remorselessly piles up corpse upon corpse, and imbues with a vigorous lust for life a character to whom I would love to see an entire series of sequels devoted.
With regard to the other half of this mismatched team, I’m in line with Donald: I could take or leave Jonathan Rhys Meyers–I’ve always found him to be something like a bland version of Ewan McGregor. Whatever that means. Though I suppose his blandness serves some function here, standing in for the initially befuddled audience. The running gag with the vase full of cocaine more or less sums up his contribution to the film. Every time I saw Rhys Meyers standing there with that vase, I thought, “Why does he have to keep carrying that thing around?” But the “smartness” of it–if I can be so bold as to credit this film with being smart–was that it was patently clear that the character had no idea either. He’s merely wading through the wake of Wax’s path of destruction. And it’s funny!
To be perfectly clear on this, From Paris With Love is not to be taken seriously. This is the very epitome of the “turn off your brain” action comedy, and if you can manage that task and you aren’t prone to be offended by ethnic and religious stereotypes, it’s really quite a lot of fun. Despite being completely over-the-top, Travolta’s apparently unhinged and brashly offensive hero is nevertheless thoroughly charismatic, and he grows more and more upon you as the movie rushes forward, trampling over all logic in its headlong sprint to the ending.
Charlie Wax seems to have been designed specifically to one-up conventional cinema spies–to my mind, there really isn’t an equivalent. Wax’s no-prisoners attitude and Travolta’s infectious freneticism in the role combine to establish an action hero for everybody who ever thought that James Bond might be too much of a pansy.
For better or worse, Wax embodies the perception of an America that does whatever the fuck it wants to (or some would argue, has to). I won’t defend it, but at the same time, I won’t deny that there’s something invigorating about this impulsive, bullet-proof hero who solves each successive problem by killing everything he sees. It’s pure escapism and doesn’t aim for anything higher, so just relax and enjoy the chaos (which, for a change, doesn’t totally abuse CG for a lot of physics-defying nonsense–there’s hardly any CG at all in fact–and as far as I know, Travolta does almost all of his own stunts).
This pretty well redeems Travolta for everything crappy he has acted in since Pulp Fiction. I mean, I understand why paid film critics had to destroy this film in their reviews, but see it anyway. It’s a lot of fun, and if you hate it, you probably have a sizeable stick up your ass. You know who you are, and you already know you won’t like it.
- Steven Holden did a good one for The New York Times. “I am ashamed to admit that this empty-headed, preposterous, possibly evil mélange of gunplay and high-speed car chases on Parisian boulevards is a feel-good movie that produces a buzz.” I agree–you can’t help but feel a little guilty for enjoying it, but what can you do? Like Meyer’s character, you’re along for the ride, and initially, you’re kind of appalled, but eventually, you discover that you’re enjoying the outrageousness of it all.