Nikita's got nothing on Saldana, who showed off her athletic prowess and fighting skills in Avatar. Here, she's in hyper-drive as Cataleya (like the rare orchid), a Colombian orphan who grows up vowing to avenge her gangster parents' murder by other gangsters.
Megaton fleshes out the backstory, opening with a surprisingly fresh, 20-minute sequence that features the charming child actor Amandla Stenberg as young Cataleya. Decked out in a school uniform and pigtails, Cataleya 1.0 is doing homework at the kitchen table when Marco (the fine Spanish thesp Jordi Mollà in yet another gangster role) and his henchmen come for her parents. She wounds Marco with a hunting knife (she may be 10, but she's got spunk!) and evades a dozen heavily armed villains to seek asylum at the American Embassy.
Lucky for Cataleya, her uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis), a low-level gangster in Chicago, takes her in and shows her how to become the best darned killer in the world.
Cut to 15 years later: Cataleya 2.0 (Saldana) is an assassin in Emilio's employ. But instead of going to the beach on her down time, she tracks down and kills every sleazeball ever associated with Big Bad Marco. As FBI special agent Ross (the superb Brit actor Lennie James) informs the audience, Cataleya offed 22 dudes in four years.
Megaton tries hard in Colombiana to establish Saldana as a newer, sexier, action-star-slash-sex-symbol.
He treats us to such sights!
Saldana in an impossibly tight, black catsuit; Saldana in tank top and impossibly teeny denim shorts; Saldana in the shower. Sexier still, there's Saldana in the tank top and impossibly teeny shorts wielding a machine gun, Saldana with rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
It's hard sometimes to suspend disbelief, as in a scene when a barefoot Saldana in her skivvies flees a massive phalanx of S.W.A.T. commandos while dragging along a sniper rifle that's taller - and probably heavier - than she is.
Colombiana isn't the last word in action movies, but it's a fun ride. And so wrong.
Colombiana **1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Olivier Megaton. With Zoe Saldana, Cliff Curtis, Jordi Mollà, Lennie James, Michael Vartan. Distributed by TriStar Pictures & Stage 6 Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 47 mins
Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, sexuality, profanity, smoking, gun fetishism)
Playing at: area theaters
Contact staff writer Tirdad Derakshani at 215-854-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org.