January 29, 2010 / 7:19 AM / 9 years ago

John Travolta a blast in routine thriller "Paris"

Actor John Travolta (R) and his wife Kelly Preston speak to television reporters as they arrive at the premiere of "From Paris With Love" in New York January 28, 2010. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - John Travolta lets entertainingly loose as a bald-headed, goateed, gonzo CIA agent with a short fuse in Pierre Morel’s “From Paris With Love,” an otherwise unsightly heap of nonsense that keeps tripping over its own swagger.

It certainly won’t be taken for “Taken,” the hit Morel guilty pleasure released a year ago in North America during Super Bowl weekend that effectively reset Liam Neeson in the image of a take-no-prisoners action movie hero.

Although Neeson and Travolta share the same fundamental likability and decency that allows them to take audiences along on uncharacteristic journeys, the former’s film had a sturdy emotional underpinning provided by his daughter’s kidnapping.

In the absence of a similar involving element here, it’s unlikely viewers will show the love this time around, especially with an oddball title that does doesn’t exactly sell the hard-hitting goods. The Lionsgate release opens February 5.

Penned by Adi Hasak from a story by Luc Besson, the film takes a long time to click into gear, with an initial focus on Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character, an upright, uptight personal aide to France’s U.S. ambassador (Richard Durden).

Although his James Reese would seem to have it all — a cool job in Paris with a beautiful French girlfriend (Kasia Smutniak) — he really aspires to being a bona fide CIA agent. He’s taught a lesson in being careful what one wishes for when he’s paired with Travolta’s loose-cannon Charlie Wax on an explosive tour of duty through the city’s meaner streets.That, at least, is the film’s intention, but the decent distractions prove few and far between that slow setup and a weak payoff.

A lack of give-and-take chemistry between Travolta, in by far the showier role, and Meyers creates a further strain on the stop/start proceedings.

While sporting a swell American accent, Meyers’ uneasy character all but retreats into the background alongside Travolta’s bad-boy strut.

Combining postcard gloss with backstreet grit, the anticipated action sequences — if short of pulse-pounding — efficiently get the job done with reliable assist from cameraman Michel Abramowicz and editor Frederic Thoraval, who both worked on “Taken.”

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