From Paris With Love is kind of like Lethal Weapon meets The Hurt Locker, and when those two distinctly different sensibilities collide, it’s not a good thing. Directed by Pierre Morel, whose talent for unflinching violence worked so brilliantly on Taken last year, this isn’t the action movie it ought to be. Morel’s style is at odds with a series of ill-fitting parts; actors who don’t mesh and a script which can’t seem to decide if it’s lobbying for an Oscar or if it just wants to blow shit up.
In the Lethal Weapon version of this movie is John Travolta, playing a cartoonishly bald spy named Charlie Wax. His approach to his job is best described as “rock and roll”. In general this means if there’s cocaine lying around he’ll snort it, and if there’s someone in his way he’ll shoot them in the head. Cartoonish the character may be, but he’s also fantastically entertaining. Most of the movie’s laughs come from Wax, a man who is never afraid to say the ridiculous or do the unthinkable. Many of Travolta’s scenes are hit and miss, but when they hit they’re the only thing that keeps From Paris going. Wax is wild and unpredictable, and almost in spite of the movie he’s been stuck in, a lot of fun.
In the Hurt Locker version of this movie is Jonathan Rhys Meyers and his fantastically unconvincing American accent as James Reece, a government agent working at the U.S. embassy in France. He’s in love with the perfect girlfriend and serious about his job. He has no discernable sense of humor, but he likes to play chess. I guess that’s what passes for a personality. Otherwise the character is all over the map. In one scene he hides in a corner like a coward while bullets fly past his head, in the next he’s cool and unflappable, standing calmly while Wax makes everyone dead. Eventually that calm turns into something else. By the end of the film Reece is deeply conflicted about what they’re doing. He’s paired up with Wax and over the course of the film goes through emotional hell, and as things get worse and they’re embroiled in stopping a terrorist conspiracy, the whole thing becomes very dark and personal. At least until Travolta waltzes in with another wisecrack.
There’s no chemistry between Travolta and Meyers, and it’s not really their fault. They’ve been written into different movies with no real meeting place in the middle. At some point even the movie seems to give up on making their pairing work, and splits them off into different realities. In one, John Travolta is re-paired up with a badass CIA driver who doesn’t talk (presumably because they paid their actors by the word) and in the other a heartfelt Meyers stumbles around with a gun while he watches his entire life unravel.
From Paris With Love never seems comfortable with what it’s doing and in the process never seems sure about what it wants to be. Is it a wild, shoot-em-up, buddy-cop movie or is it a serious meditation on the personal costs of terrorism in a world at war with itself? It waffles between those two insane extremes, never finding a middle ground, never really deciding on a specific tone. In the end it’s neither and nothing. At best it’s weird at worst it’s a marginally offensive film which attempts to tackle deeply serious world issues by having a bearded biker shoot them with a rocket launcher.