Director: Olivier Megaton
Writer: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Producer: Luc Besson, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam
Cast: Zoe Saldana, Michael Vartan, Cliff Curtis, Lennie James, Callum Blue, Jordi Mollà, Graham McTavish
Running Time: 108 min.
During the past few years, Luc Besson has made the transition from writer/director to writer/producer, creating a stable of Eurotrash action flicks with a rotating set of directors. He’s helped launch the careers of guys like Louis Letterier, who made the transition from The Transporter to big time American studio fare like the Clash of the Titans remake, and Pierre Morel, whose Taken was such a big hit that he was once slated to helm a Dune revamp. Perhaps Besson is still stinging from the critical and financial drubbing that his Joan of Arc pic The Messenger received. Either way, he hasn’t actually directed a live-action film that’s hit American screens in over a decade. Action fans no doubt miss his visionary touch behind the camera, but in the meantime we’ll have to make due with his Europa-studio films that tend to hit the theaters at least once a year.
Besson’s screenplays are at their finest when playing off Middle American fears, whether it was Liam Neeson discovering that Paris is one big sleazy ghetto and justifying CIA torture tactics in Taken or John Travolta confirming that your neighbors, your friends, yes, even your fiance could be a Islamic sleeper agent in From Paris With Love. Besson’s latest production effort, Colombiana, abandons any such potentially offensive subject matter and moves the story to Chicago for your standard contract killer tale. This proves to be a fatal move as Colombiana has to be the worst film I can recall Besson having his name attached to in quite some time. To put it bluntly, Besson just doesn’t “get” contemporary America. His screenplay falters when merely trying to give dialogue to your average thirty-something dude living in a big US city and dogged FBI agents. Besson is served best when painting his home country as a volatile environment where violence could erupt at any moment (Kiss of the Dragon, District B13).
At its heart, Colombiana is an update on Besson’s own formula for The Professional. Besson always hinted that he would return to that story someday and portray Natalie Portman’s character as a grown up assassin. After a lengthy prologue featuring a child actress, Colombiana moves to the present and follows Zoe Saldana as the kind of character one imagines Natalie Portman would have played. She’s a deeply wounded woman who lives in quiet isolation, keeps everyone in her life at arm’s length, and is exceptionally good at killing people.
Saldana has replaced Angelina Jolie as the go-to “hot” action girl since appearing in movies like Avatar and Star Trek. She’s convincing enough as a trained killer, although your milage may vary considering she’s all of 90 lbs and in one scene smacks a guy with a bathroom towel. I’m not sure how much that would hurt. Zaldana is also let down by Besson’s screenplay, which is full of weak dialogue and yet calls on her to breakdown and produce tears in far too many scenes. So much for being an iron-hearted assassin, lady.
Director Olivier Megaton, ridiculous name aside, doesn’t have many films to his name. Lukewarm reviews dissuaded me from seeing his previous Besson collaboration, The Transporter 3, even though I am a fan of that series. Out of all of the directors that Besson has worked with, he definitely seems the weakest. In Colombiana, Megaton over-relies on slow motion during shoot-outs and films the movie’s crucial fight scene in disorienting close-ups.
This fight, between Saldana and her co-star Jordi Molla (the villain from Bad Boys II and severely under-used in this movie), is probably the worst fight scene I’ve witnessed in a major studio production. The camera angles are so tight and the editing so choppy that the entire fight is rendered incomprehensible. The fight choreography is by Alain Figlarz, who did stunts on both The Bourne Identity and Brotherhood of the Wolf, and is clearly going for that “Bourne” sense of immediacy – yet decisions behind the camera and in the editing room mean that it’s impossible to appreciate his work. I am not exaggerating when I say the editing is so rapid it borders on seizure-inducing. It’s really shameful that a professional, highly paid film crew would deliver an action scene this incompetent.
During the entire film, I sensed that Colombiana had been edited to conform to a PG-13 rating, at least when it comes to the violence. Many people are shot but the camera is quick to cut away before any wounds are depicted. There’s no shortage of cheesecake, though, as Zoe Saldana spends almost the entire film in her skivvies. Colombiana, then, is proof that you can sell tickets by having Zoe Saldana in her underwear but you can’t carry a 90 minute movie.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 4/10 stars