My girlfriend and I had a discussion about white heteronormativity after seeing “From Paris with Love.” She raised a valid point about the tendency of mainstream American films to promote white heteronormative values and turn heteronormative fears into violent, reactionary material that the movie-going masses eat up with a spoon. It’s a term I can’t see myself ever putting forward in a review of my own accord, since I strive for a more conversational tone and largely leave post-structuralist approaches to the film theorists. But she’s right.
In “From Paris with Love,” all of the bad guys are non-white and non-English speaking, present only to be blown away by white American saviours. All of the women are sex objects and charlatans. All of the men trade their cocks in for increasingly larger weaponry. It’s a loud, boorish, badly acted film. A few people at the screening, all men, clapped at every explosion like dogs salivating at the ringing of a bell.
And perhaps you will too. Perhaps every observation I just made about the film will appeal to you rather than turn your interest off. The truth is, I had been looking forward to seeing “From Paris with Love.” The trailers made it look like a good, high-octane action picture with a sense of humour. It’s based on a story by Luc Besson, who did such a wonderful job with “Léon” and other films. Unfortunately, with director Pierre Morel and screenwriter Adi Hasak at the helm, it’s an unimaginative, shaky, offensive mess.
Part of the problem is believing that actor John Travolta, soon to be 56, can still move like the Travolta we see moving in the film. We watch Travolta’s stuntman pitch himself out of windows, somersault down rooftops and smash into speeding vehicles before a cut takes us back to Travolta himself, confident that it will all look pretty sweet in post-production. To his credit, Travolta plays his role with verve, yelling and laughing and making split-second, bloody decisions that take everyone by surprise.
I wish I could say the same for Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who 20 years ago would be playing the comedic foil but here instead tries unsuccessfully to pass for tough as nails. The downtime conversation shared between James Reece (Rhys Meyers) and Charlie Wax (Travolta) is so achingly overacted and unwittingly awful that we wish they’d get back to rattling their simple brains in terror cell raids and motorcade protection missions.
There is some funny material involving a vase of cocaine. While waiting for Wax to finish using a restroom, Reece sets it on a table and calls his girlfriend to apologize for being late, but the cell phone battery dies. It’s a funny how-did-I-get-here moment. The plot involves Reece’s efforts to climb the secret agent ladder. Wax is an old hand, a mentor, a sort of burly James Bond without the class or dress sense. Certain elements could have worked, but the script makes little effort to hold on to the kind of comedy it so desperately needs and ultimately trades in for dialogue that hasn’t been original since before Rhys Meyers was born.
Even if “From Paris with Love” can be taken seriously enough to ascribe it a post-structural analysis (and surely more than a few can be applied), there are so many movies that take what it’s doing and do it a hundred times better. Travolta himself has been in a couple, and we are reminded of one directly via the mention of a “Royale with cheese.” Check that one out again instead. “From Paris with Love” isn’t worth the time, effort or thought it takes to go to the movies, regardless of how much of each a person has on hand.
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