From Paris with Love
By Carl Kozlowski
February 5, 2010
Sure, you’ve seen it all before: an inexperienced rookie who’s never experienced a moment of real danger in his life suddenly finds himself thrust into one life-threatening situation after another after meeting a crazed, adrenaline-junkie cop or spy. The two proceed to bicker and banter across a city or around the planet for the next two hours, offering viewers laughs and thrills without reinventing the wheel.
Bruce Willis has starred in a million of these. The Lethal Weapon series wasn’t too different from the concept. But no matter how many times you’ve seen this story done before, there’s hardly a genre more entertaining than an action-comedy taking place amid exotic locales. And the new film From Paris with Love, starring John Travolta as a hardened CIA assassin named Johnnie Wax who’s forced to team up with a mild-mannered embassy employee (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), is one action extravaganza that definitely delivers.
Paris kicks things off nicely by showing the dual life experienced by James Reese (Rhys-Meyers), who spends his days as a personal aide to the U.S. Ambassador in France, an existence in which he’s mostly planning travel logistics and handling paperwork for his boss. By night, or whenever the CIA decides to call him secretly, he is a low-level operative for the spy agency—until he abruptly gets the call one day to team up with Wax to block an assassination attempt on an American official attending a Parisian conference.
Soon he’s racing through 48 hours of mayhem across Paris in an effort to prevent the killing by Arab terrorists attached to a crime ring. In another genre tradition, he quickly learns that he can’t trust anyone in his normal life to truly be on his side.
But what makes all this a real blast to enjoy is the fact that Paris is done so well, with some of the best hands in the business running the show. French action master Luc Besson (The Transporter series, Diva, The Professional and countless other hits) wrote the story, and Pierre Morel directs with the pedal-to-the-metal, high-speed ferocity of his prior film, Taken, which was a worldwide smash at this time last year.
From Paris with Love has a few jolting surprises, but mostly its buoyant spirit comes from the other end of the human emotional spectrum: not from dark menace, but rather the sheer kinetic thrill of finding another challenge or double-cross waiting around every corner. Its two leads bring zest to what might have been tired roles, with Travolta sinking his teeth into the material and eating it with relish, a constant swagger, hilarious lines and ever-bigger weapons at his perpetual disposal.
Rhys-Meyers is a little more mellow, humane and relatable, filling the role of the guy the audience will relate to as he goes from everyman to virtual superhero. Following higher-pedigree roles in projects like Woody Allen’s Match Point and Showtime’s royalty drama series The Tudors, he clearly has fun cutting loose.
It’s a feeling audiences will share, and hopefully will result in further adventures for Johnnie Wax and his protégé.