Slaying alive

From Paris with Love

“I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk.”

“I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk.”

Rated 2.0

John Travolta shows up all head-shaven and wild-eyed for From Paris with Love, a not so very good film that, nevertheless, has some great moments because Travolta in top form can be a lot of fun.

He costars as Charlie Wax, an American one-man wrecking machine sent to Paris to help alleviate a situation through mass elimination of bad guys. He’s partnered up with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, playing some sort of diplomat moonlighting as a special agent, or something like that. Now that I’m recapping this thing, Meyers’ role makes little sense.

The two go on an assault spree that has you thinking it might be about taking down drug lords but eventually leads to something much bigger and painfully unnecessary. Director Pierre Morel infuses his film with the occasional decent surprise and serviceable action sequences, but he can’t save things from going belly up with a script that frays in the end like a piece of string cheese in the hands of a ravenous 2-year-old.

Don’t blame Travolta, who creates one of his better roles in years with Charlie Wax—with the help of some major CGI and stunt doubles. He delivers a performance that is, in some ways, all wrong for the picture. He seems to be the only one in on the joke. From Paris with Love could’ve been a balls-out, funny, ultra-violent action picture, but it tries to be some sort of weird morality play in the end.

Rhys Meyers acts his part with a strange, nasally American accent, sort of half committing to a wimpy sidekick caricature. However, his character is also a hopeless and serious romantic with focused career goals and little humor. There’s some business involving his girlfriend that eventually contributes to the film’s derailment.

It’s like Rhys Meyers thinks he’s in a Jason Bourne flick, while Travolta believes he’s in something more akin to 48 Hrs. or Beverly Hills Cop. Because both performers are equally committed to their interpretations, the film winds up being discordant and messy.

For my money, it’s the Travolta portion that works best. He’s a keen, fast-talking assassin who is at once funny and totally scary. Travolta has done some bad work in his time, but when he’s on his game, he’s pretty damn good. There’s a dinner scene in this film where he’s required to go from funny guy to serious badass on a hairpin turn, and he does it with gusto. Too bad whiny Rhys Meyers pipes in and ruins the party.

What the movie is seriously lacking is a partner for Travolta who can bring the funny while handling the complex stuff. Somebody like Robert Downey Jr. or Matt Damon running around kicking ass and cracking wise with Travolta would’ve made this one an effective mega blockbuster, rather than the inconsistent curio it winds up being. Although, seriously, you couldn’t have gotten Downey Jr. or Damon to play second fiddle to Travolta, or participate in this movie’s terrible finale.

Honestly, I wouldn’t mind another Charlie Wax movie from Travolta. Get him a better partner and a script more committed to his character’s tone. You’d also have to get him a bigger trailer and another airplane for his collection. The man is notoriously demanding.

This is a Luc Besson-produced flick, and Morel is also an accomplished cinematographer, so the movie looks and sounds great. It has one of the more memorable and exciting car chases of recent memory, thrilling gunfights, and impressively choreographed hand-to-hand combat scenes.

What it doesn’t have is a few more good jokes and a true sense of purpose. From Paris with Love is too funny to be taken seriously and too serious to be officially deemed funny. It’s totally schizoid.