Travolta, Rhys Meyers pummel Paris

Between explosions, John Travolta (left) , Melissa Mars, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in "From Paris With Love," a buddy/spy flick.
Between explosions, John Travolta (left) , Melissa Mars, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in "From Paris With Love," a buddy/spy flick.
Posted: February 05, 2010

As evidenced by the locomotive 2008 action hits Taken and Tell No One, the city of Paris lends itself especially well to high-speed chases, ricocheting fire fights, and the elaborate destruction of buildings and street furniture.

And now the producer and director of Taken, Luc Besson and Pierre Morel, respectively, have decided to blow up more of the City of Light - with an in-your-face John Travolta responsible for most of the carnage.

In the adrenalized buddy/spy pic From Paris With Love, Travolta - sporting shaven head and devilish goatee - is Charlie Wax, a top CIA operative. "I'll admit his playbook is a little unorthodox," says one of his handlers, on the phone to James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a U.S. embassy junior staffer with dreams of joining the cloak-and-dagger crowd.

And unorthodox is an understatement. Over the course of a couple of days, Wax ingests illegal substances, wreaks havoc on restaurants and warehouses, liaises with a hooker, blows away about 30 people - and runs a couple of red lights while he's at it.

Travolta, brandishing heavy artillery and bringing on some chopsocky moves, is the crazy provocateur of Morel's movie, and the actor is clearly enjoying himself - even if he might think he's more clever, and cool, than we do. Rhys Meyers, with an American accent and an air of tidy earnestness, plays exasperated and befuddled. But ultimately, his James jumps into the fray - he has no choice really. "If you want to be a secret agent man," Travolta's Charlie tells him, "you have to roll like a secret agent man."

From Paris With Love lacks the dramatic urgency of Taken - there's no fiercely resolute Action Dad fighting off the thugs who've kidnapped his daughter. The story here is straight from Espionage 101, with traitors who are easy to spot, and villains who are borderline offensive ethnic stereotypes. But Morel and his crew certainly know how to stage action: the fight scenes and shootouts, the stairwell pursuits and motorway mayhem, are as good, if not better, than anything to come out of Hong Kong in a long time.

And 15 years after Pulp Fiction, the Tarantino influence lives on: In what's either a nifty tribute or a lame citation of a classic piece of Quentin dialogue (your call), Rhys Meyers and Travolta take a moment off from tearing around town to enjoy a lunch by the Seine: And so the younger actor, grinning knowingly, hands the Pulp Fiction star a McDonald's box with a "Royale with cheese" in it.

And then the two of them are off again, to fire bazookas at some terrorists or something.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/

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