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PARIS — Jean-Luc Godard’s famous remark that all you need to make a movie is “a girl and a gun” doesn’t quite hold water for Luc Besson. In his world, you need one girl wearing as little as possible, and at least fifty guns, preferably firing at the same time. Such is the formula applied to Colombiana, the latest EuropaCorp effort produced and co-scripted by Besson, and directed by in-house auteur Olivier Megaton, whose mise-en-scène is often as subtle as his last name sounds. Still, there are guilty pleasures to be had in this frenzied B starring Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Star Trek), who gives an acrobatic performance that makes the overcooked material watchable, if not entirely enjoyable.
The $40 million, English-language actioner rolls out in France July 27, while Sony offshoot Stage 6 Films will handle all media in the U.S. In both cases, the movie’s promise — more than fulfilled — to dish out plenty of bullets and bras should help boost opening numbers, followed by solid back-end business alongside EuropaCorp franchises Hitman and Transporter (the third installment of which was directed by Megaton).
You know you’re in Besson territory when a film’s opening minutes feature a 10-year-old girl (Amandla Stenberg) stabbing a drug capo (Jordi Malla) in the hand with a Rambo knife, then jumping out the window to execute a series of parkour stunts throughout the slums of Bogota, until arriving at the U.S. Embassy, where she vomits on the desk of a CIA agent (Callum Blue). If that wasn’t enough for you, wait for the next sequence, where she steals away to Chicago to find her uncle (Cliff Curtis) beating someone to death, after which he tries to give her a serious life lesson by firing a Colt .45 at random victims across the street from an elementary school.
So much for the back story, which is meant to demonstrate how Cataleya (Saldana) was so traumatized by her parents’ deaths at the hands of a Colombian kingpin (Beto Benites) that, 15 years later, she has become a one woman fighting machine intent on taking out the entire cartel. Conceived as a sort of follow up to Besson’s La Femme Nikita, the scenario (co-written by regular Robert Mark Kamen, creator of The Karate Kid) nonetheless lacks whatever subtlety could have been found in the much artier 1990 thriller, which combined killer looks and pyrotechnics in fascinating ways.
Here, the point is to strip Ms. Saldana down to the bare minimum and then to throw her (sometimes literally) from one action scene to another. This doesn’t mean that Colombiana comes without its own charms, and two well-handled escape sequences prove that the actress can bring both physical rigor and a certain level of class to the stunts. Other moments merely showcase how many times Megaton must have watched the Jason Bourne series, from which he filches both an in-your-face bathroom brawl and a scene where Cataleya calls someone in an office…from an office in the opposite building.
Before things terminate in a drug dealer shootout the likes of which have not been seen since Commando, the film pauses for a few inspired tête-à-têtes between Saldana and Lennie James (24 Hour Party People), who plays a Chicago detective – clearly the most thoughtful character depicted on screen. Such scenes show that once in a while, Besson and Co. can cut away all the fat and fireworks to make something that vaguely resembles what the writer-producer-CEO was once capable of back in the day.
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