Even though the film is a thoroughly French production in respect to its crew, “From Paris with Love” adheres to what has become the modern-Hollywood formula for making an action picture. You know the formula I’m talking about. It’s roughly as follows:
Step 1. Team up a pair of opposites to serve as protagonists, and milk the resulting conflict for comedic effect.
Step 2. Run these protagonists through a plot built around a series of car chases, shoot-outs and explosions. Also, find somewhere to toss in several attractive women (and maybe a few ethnic stereotypes as well—the audience shouldn’t be required to think too much).
Step 3. Once in post-production, chop up the film’s set pieces with a quick-cut style of editing, so that these action sequences become practically impossible for an audience to visually process.
And, voilà — Hollywood action, made to order.
“From Paris with Love” doesn’t merely follow these rules. It celebrates them, and the result is somewhat unexpected. There’s a vaguely satirical quality that arises from the trashy excess found within it. And while such a quality may not be enough to justify labeling the film a success, it certainly does make “From Paris with Love” interesting.
But let’s get to the film, shall we? Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars as James Reece, a straight-laced diplomatic lackey working at the American Embassy in Paris. When he’s not sharing unbearably sappy moments with his French girlfriend, James moonlights as a low-level CIA liaison, picking up vehicles and changing out license plates, all in the hope of one day becoming a full-time operative.
His chance for advancement soon surfaces in the form of a trial-assignment: escort CIA agent Charlie Wax (John Travolta, looking like Mr. Clean’s doppelganger) on a mission. From this point onward, the film’s body count steadily rises as its I.Q. hopelessly plunges.
Such a result might be considered inevitable, as “From Paris with Love” comes from the minds of French filmmakers Luc Besson and Pierre Morel. Not exactly known for their cinematic restraint, producer Besson is a purveyor of over-the-top action films such as “Crank,” “The Transporter” and “War,” while Morel’s last film as director (“Taken”) was anything but subtle.
Besson and Morel make good on their reputations, as “From Paris with Love” is essentially one long action sequence — a film captured through hyperactive camera lenses, subjected to overzealous editing, and cued to a bombastic score. It’s an approach that’s been taken so many times before, and always to the same effect: mind-numbing exhaustion.
Still, there’s something slightly different about “From Paris with Love.” At times, the movie seems distinctly aware of its abrasiveness. And rather than backing down, “From Paris with Love” decides to take its vulgar extravagance to the next level.
Consider the movie’s penchant for employing stereotypes. The Paris found in “From Paris with Love” is defined by cultural oversimplification. Asians are nameless, disposable gunmen. Eastern-Europeans have monopolized the sex-trafficking business. Every Arab immigrant is a secret-terrorist. And no black Parisian appears outside the city’s slums.
Oh, and the film’s most prominent American character? He’s a gun-loving, coke-snorting egotist with an insatiable appetite for both cheeseburgers and destruction.
By becoming so casual with its clichés, “From Paris with Love” starts to undermine the very logic which fuels it. The same could be said for the movie’s cinematography—a production-style so shamelessly manipulative that it occasionally comes across as self-deprecating.
This crude self-awareness makes “From Paris with Love” a tolerable exercise in cinematic excess. It may not be any different from its worn-out Hollywood brethren, but at least “From Paris with Love” isn’t delusional. This is a movie that knows it’s terrible—and embraces that fact wholeheartedly.