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September 28, 2016

Romp through the City of Lights ‘With Love’

“From Paris With Love” may be the first entertaining wide-release action movie to come out this year. As action abounds, the film’s tongue-in-cheek script hits all of the right marks, sweeping a viewer along for an explosive ride through the dark crevices and seedy environs contained within the City of Lights.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“The Tudors”) stars as James Reece, an aide to the U.S. Ambassador in France. Although his life has all the trappings of white collar drudgery, he  moonlights as a low-level CIA agent. His next assignment, in order to move up in the world of the CIA, is to assist special agent Charlie Wax (John Travolta) in stopping a terrorist attack on Paris.

Hilarity ensues from the moment Travolta enters the movie. Wax is attempting to bring a duffle bag full of energy drinks into France but is stopped by customs; he then proceeds to swear at the customs agent and belittle him for being French, but all this is artifice to distract customs from looking into what he is really carrying in the energy drink cans: his beloved gun.

Travolta’s over-the-top performance as an experienced, wise-cracking, shoot-‘em-up kind of agent is what makes “From Paris With Love” memorable. The script, penned by Adi Hasak and based on a story by Luc Besson, is written so that the viewer laughs with the movie and not at it. Bald and sporting a goatee,  Travolta’s Howie Mandel-esque new age appearance is a little tough to swallow – especially for viewers who have grown accustomed to his familiar visage – but once viewers adjust, it’s easy to sit back and enjoy the show.

The beginning scenes move sluggishly until Wax appears. Most of the opening scenes are structured around the development of James Reece, who struggles to find a balance for his jobs with the embassy and the CIA. His engagement to his French fiancé (Kasia Smutniak) further complicates things. As “From Paris with Love” progresses, Reece serves as a counterbalance to Wax. Stiff, straight-edged and yet still a man who plays by the books, Reece presents a perfect foil to the older though higher-flying persona Wax exudes.

Director Pierre Morel, who collaborated with Besson on last year’s “Taken,” weaves the film through the underworld of Paris. As the body count piles up for Wax and Reece, their attempts to thwart the efforts of drug dealers and take down terror cells from Chinatown to the Parisian slums keep the film within familiar action movie terrain, harkening back to Morel’s past films which include “The Transporter” and 2004’s “District 13.”

During one particularly compelling scene, the duo is about to enter an inner-sanctum of the Chinese drug dealing underground when Reece asks Wax, “How many more do you think there are?”

“Based on the last census? About a billion,” replies Wax. Sharp quips like this are peppered throughout the movie’s dialogue, which is scarce considering Morel’s main focus seems to be on the action sequences.

The film manages to throw a few curveballs into the equation which could throw viewers off their guard. Popcorn action movies like these don’t often have clever turns, but “From Paris With Love” is a rare exception. The acting is also fairly fluid throughout;  Travolta and Meyer have a chemistry which makes this film fun to watch.

Like any movie out there, though, “From Paris” has its share of drawbacks. In a shameless self-referential nod to his previous role in “Pulp Fiction,” Travolta explains how every man has his vices, and a “royale with cheese” is his. The famous line – which comes from what is arguably Travolta’s best movie and the heyday of Travolta’s career – seems out of place. The movie’s sequence of events can be choppy, too. One minute they’re snorting blow on the Eiffel Tower and the next they’re picking up prostitutes in a back alley.

With “From Paris,” reality suffers in the name of good fluff, the film is one of those movies where the good guys always hit their targets, and the bad guys almost always miss.

“From Paris With Love” is like James Bond meets Steven Seagal’s “Under Siege,” with a twist of comedy. The movie is rife with gratuitous violence and plenty of explosions. The script is designed to the make the viewer laugh, but is not so corny that it’s uncomfortable or painful to watch. The filmmakers do a great job keeping the viewer entertained through the movie’s entirety of 92 minutes. This movie is underrated, and will probably make its way to DVD overlooked in the box office. Chalk it up to the pitfalls of a popcorn action flick.

Brendan Murphy can be reached at brendanm@student.umass.edu.

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