I just typed From Russia With Love, and luckily caught my gaffe before sending this to my editor. An easy mistake, when the actual title, From Paris With Love, is so obviously a paean to the Bond flicks. In this action-packed thriller, John Travolta plays Charlie Wax, a CIA operative who is the yin to the yang of his Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 subway-stealing baddie. Hurtling through Chinese restaurants and dingy fabric shops, both hands wielding heavy-duty firepower, Wax is a one man wrecking crew. As bodies of Asian baddies hurtle down from a spiral staircase, Wax’s new partner, the decidedly lower level agent Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) asks just how many of them there are, to which Wax glibly jibes “A billion.”
So, no, From Paris With Love is not exactly subtle, and yes, it is downright old fashioned in its refusal to try to paint its ethnic bad guys with any smidgeon of nobility. Strangely, and perhaps because we’re into cold, brutal February, I didn’t mind. There was something atavistically refreshing about seeing two agents work their way through dangerous situations, ostensibly to stop a major drug cartel from passing off its lethal product into wider distribution. It was a kick to watch the duo get hoodwinked by a beauteous brunette (another Bondian nod), and have to think fast to get back on track before she assassinates an American ambassador.
The movie belongs completely to Travolta, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he filmed this after his son’s tragic death, in which case the bombing around as a badass motherfucker might have been a cathartic release. In a much less splashy role, Rhys Meyers is appealing as the agent who wants to prove his mettle, then spends the remainder of the movie almost bewailing what he wished for. The scenes in which Reece has to follow Wax from one dangerous encounter to another, all the while holding on to a vase full of cocaine, are comic and understated. Stunningly filmed and edited, From Paris with Love is the ultimate jolt to the winter doldrums—that is, if you’ve already seen all the Oscar-nominated films of last year. Or am I just saying that to preserve some sort of critic cred?