From Paris With Love (2010)

Ahhh…  Luc Besson delivers again.

I watched this one in 2010 but just re-watched it right after The Good Shepherd and it was exactly what I’d hoped for: explosions, gunshots, mayhem and crazy John Travolta.  The title is a play on words with an old Bond title, what did people really expect?  It just barely broke even so maybe people didn’t really like it?

I liked the agent cover at as an embassy worker, I don’t know if they ever mentioned CIA directly…, the menial tasks of bugs and license plates, the use of official cover to facilitate agent entry into the country, the breadcrumb trail through the city, satellite coverage coordination with NSA, actual gathering of intelligence, “Rose’s” blown cover, etc. etc.

Maybe Travolta drove people away, too over the top?  It was fun watching him fuck with Rhys Meyers and to me it seemed like it was a game (constant chess references?) where he revealed what he was doing step by step instead of explaining it in advance.  Part of his tactic was to keep everyone off balance.  Don’t believe me?  Re-watch it at the point when the unnamed agent is driving him on the getaway and Travolta starts flipping through channels – I’m pretty sure he didn’t do that for any reason other than to keep the other guy on his toes.  We’re as surprised as Agent Reese at each turn but I didn’t really get the impression Agent Wax was ever really taken by surprise.

It wasn’t overly cerebral but I didn’t think that was the point.  If it was stupid then at least it was fun and interesting stupid.  Agent Reese’s official cover leading to involvement in Agent Wax’s case seemed a little disingenuous but we’ve seen much, much worse in this genre.  I wonder why people didn’t enjoy it?  Isn’t there a place for stupid brainless violence any more?  Does it all have to be indie, Wes Anderson or awkward Ben Stiller humor?  I’ll try and find someone’s complaints.  If I had to guess, it would be that they wanted straight spy spoof comedy or ruthless intense murderizing, what they didn’t want was to be faced with an unreliable narrator as a partner who they couldn’t predict.  Wax was ridiculous and overtly demeaning but somehow isn’t as forgivable as Holmes or Hercule Poirot.

Ok, let’s see the complaints:

It is a never-ending series of fight sequences and car chases glorifying violence. The fight sequences in this movie make “violence for the sake of violence” into an unadulterated non-stop orgy of Ugly American-ism.

No shit, what did you expect?  That’s like saying water is wet.  p.s. Connie lives in Chicago, she is definitely an American.

From the moment we see Charlie Wax (John Travolta), he is large and in charge. He is loud, abrasive, aggressive, profane and always seems to be in possession of important plot points that the more civilized Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) neither has nor suspects. The audience is seldom, if ever, clued in regarding any plot points. the movie is the kind of violent fandango where it almost doesn’t matter. Who needs a plot if you have lots of shootings, cool profanity, heavy-duty firepower, and lots of car chases? The plot would just get in the way and would take way too much time to tie together, so let’s just shoot a few more bad guys.

This might have actually been a point of confusion for folks.  Take quick notes as the movie progresses.  An on-site asset has indicated an interest in covert espionage, Wax has been sent to root out a possible terrorist cell but only has the lead of money laundering through Chinese drugs, the on-site asset has the embassy connections and fluency to work any in-field assets, the drugs lead to the restaurant which lead to the seedy underworld player who has obviously been examined by US intelligence, he leads to the “bank” which can be surveiled from a whorehouse across the street, the men leaving the “bank” are trailed to their safehouse, safehouse leads back to Agent Reese, to Rose, to Caroline, to 2 separate terrorist plots, both of which are foiled.  Everyone they kill is attempting to kill them or involved in enough nefarious bad-guy activity to justify their killing in most other movies.  Travolta is an A-murica parody, a caricature for a purpose.  You notice he usually turns it on before people start shooting or he needs to gain an edge?  I think this right here captures what I was trying to say.  The audience doesn’t like being kept in the dark by someone they consider inferior but when Mamet does it in Spartan then it becomes art.

It’s never enough to say that critics didn’t understand.  I will say that if you like action movies and if you like spy movies then go watch it once, wait a couple years and then go back and watch it again.  The Training Day moments begin to make sense in context of a novice agent on his first mission with a highly unorthodox and successful field agent who is evaluating him for future assignments while attempting to root out a suspected terrorist plot.  Everything Travolta does is part of an overarching strategy to track the terrorists or in the moment tactics to keep people off-balance.  He’s also deliberately pushing the new kid hard and harder.  Agent Reese is our, the audience’s, entry point into the narrative and aren’t we so pleased with our ambition, our education (Cambridge no less), our sophistication?  We like him because he’s the straight man but keep in mind that he’s naive, untrained and an asset-not-yet-partner in Wax’s mission whose girlfriend is as trustworthy as Olivier Rabourdin’s Jean-Claude.  Put more bluntly, we are the innocent dipshit who has no idea what is going on.

Just go watch the stupid fucking movie you dumb motherfucker.  Just don’t expect any goddamn hipster bullshit.  Don’t expect this movie to be anything other than what it is, a violent action movie.  Then pick up a copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, read that shit and come back and watch this movie again.