Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Violence throughout, Drug Content, Pervasive Language and brief Sexuality
Directed by: Pierre Morel
Written by: Adi Hasak & Luc Besson
Starring: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak, David Gasman, Richard Durden, Yin Bing & Amber Rose Revah
Sometimes, a movie surprises the hell out of you. That’s exactly what happened with FROM PARIS WITH LOVE for me. Every bit of marketing indicated this movie would suck and its original January release certainly didn’t do it any favors. John Travolta’s output during the 2000’s has been mediocre at best (WILD HOGS, anyone? What about OLD DOGS?) and Jonathan Rhys Meyers isn’t exactly a huge leading man on the big screen. This movie also didn’t bank at the box office and plans of a sequel have recently been scrapped. I stuck in this film with expectations of a cheesy action flick and it’s actually pretty damn good. While this movie definitely falls into the cheesy action genre, the script packs in numerous surprises, performs a balancing act of being comical and serious, and had me walking away very satisfied. I can’t believe I’m saying this but FROM PARIS WITH LOVE is one of the more underrated action efforts of the 2010’s.
James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) works as the personal aide to a U.S. ambassador in France, but also has a side-gig as a rookie CIA agent. Sick of swapping license plates and planting microphones, Reese finally receives a long-awaited promotion…but it comes with a catch. That catch is loose-cannon partner Charlie Wax (John Travolta). Wax’s methods are unconventional to say the least and he doesn’t exactly follow the rulebook, but he gets results! This means that Reese soon finds himself in over his head as the mismatched pair of agents contend with a cocaine ring and a terrorist plot. All the while, Reese attempts to keep his fiancé Caroline (Kasia Smutniak) from leaving him after his latest assignment causes a string of misunderstandings. Paris is already a wild city…but it’s even wilder when Wax is in town.
Strange as it sounds, the unlikely chemistry between Meyers and Travolta greatly benefit FROM PARIS WITH LOVE. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is most famously known for playing Henry VIII in HBO’s THE TUDORS and he doesn’t seem like a plausible action hero type, but that’s exactly what sells his role as nervous Reese. This rookie agent is entirely new to the world of cocaine, high-stakes espionage and large body counts, meaning that a lot of comedy comes from his shocked newbie reactions. Meanwhile, John Travolta chews the scenery like it’s going out of style as Charlie Wax. That could be taken as a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the viewer. As someone who can kick back and enjoy cheesy action films as quality entertainment, this was a very good thing for me. Wax’s loose-cannon attitude and even looser moral compass bring plenty of jokes and cool charisma, making him a lovable scumbag.
The supporting cast is almost inconsequential. The only two side roles of note are Kasia Smutniak’s stint as frequently glimpsed fiancé Caroline and Richard Durden as bland Ambassador Bennington. The villains are pretty much one-note antagonists and hit a pretty dark cord considering the time that this film was made, along with the current state of the world. Terrorism isn’t necessarily exploited by PARIS’s screenplay though, because it follows the same path that many other action films from the 80’s and 90’s have already tread down. The difference here is that PARIS’s sense of humor, over-the-top action and jumps into serious tonal territory occasionally seem jarring, though the film performs an impressive juggling act for the most part.
There’s also something to be said for an action movie that can make you laugh and simultaneously keep you on the edge of your seat with unexpected surprises. One plot revelation came out of nowhere and effectively punched me in the gut. The director and writers should to be commended for not backing out of their ballsy decision too. The film’s visuals look slick for the most part, though a brief bit of slow motion seemed like a sloppy post-production effect. The pacing is great as the film never slows down once Wax enters the story. The action itself is explosively awesome as gunfights, car chases and tense standoffs are executed with adrenaline-pumping energy.
FROM PARIS WITH LOVE is far from perfect. It’s a cheesy action flick, meaning that there are a few lapses in logic, some well-trodden clichés, and stretches of seriousness that don’t fully fit within the explosive entertaining atmosphere. Still, the film remains a lot of fun and left me very satisfied. It’s an action movie with comedy, twists, good chemistry between its two leads, loads of fun, and plenty of action. What more could you really want from a movie like this?