Anne Parillaud, Natalie Portman, Milla Jovovich. All of these women exploded onto the scene, giving their finest performances under the guidance of director Luc Besson, each becoming a muse for the Action auteur. Where they would be without the roles of Nikita, Mathilda, and Leeloo I can’t say, but undoubtedly the 90’s were an excellent time for strong, capable female gunslingers due to the sensitive touch that Besson applied.
I’m a major fan of the man and his work, but carrying a membership card to that club is bittersweet. Due to burnout syndrome, he vacated the director’s chair in favor of writing basic outlines and producing for younger French talent. The results have been scattershot. There was commercial success in The Transporter, Taken, and Kiss of the Dragon, acceptable for what they are, with quite a few more titles dropping below those (and below District B13) in measure of quality. Perhaps the worst of those released in America (I’ve yet to watch From Paris with Love) is Oliver Megaton’s The Transporter 3. For this reason, my expectations were managed walking into the latest in a long line of Besson-lite. Colombiana is also directed by that man who’s name cannot be forgotten.
To my surprise, the movie is one of the more competent emulations. It never achieves a genuine artistry as the proper Besson titles did, but grants a comfortable spot among that gallery of actresses to Zoe Saldana. Here, she’s given the material to make her emotional queues, falling short only because we’re already well aware of her talent from the spotlight of Star Trek, and because the mark of the man who conceived it is limited, mostly, to thematic approach and the appreciation for absurdity.
As the story goes, for reasons beyond my understanding, Luc Besson wanted to make a sequel to his best film, Leon (known here as The Professional), expanding on the assassin protege played by Portman. For twelve years, he failed to lock down the apprehensive actress while suffering a harsh falling out with distribution partner Gaumont Film. The ideas were then recycled to form Colombiana, a script co-written by Robert Mark Kamen. It was kicked to Megaton, who takes credit for leading it further away from allusions to Nikita and Leon, releasing it finally to an apathetic audience during 2011’s lackluster lineup.
This is a crappy action flick saved by the very things that often break the momentum of others. All of the intensity in Colombiana‘s trailer is missing from the full-length feature. Gunplay is uninspired, explosions (and sharks) are fifty-percent-off computer graphics, and the Bourne series choreographer appears to have only contributed to one heavily edited melee match-up between Cataleya, a revenge bent beauty whose parents were murdered before her eyes, and one of many sleazy, paper thin stock characters that include Sam Douglas (Heavy Rain, yes that Heavy Rain). Whenever there’s a straight up bullet brawl, it’s off balance trying to decide between cheeky exploitation and pulse quickening combat. Something it never, ever does, is put Cataleya in a place of physical fragility, which is a shame because Colombiana makes us care so much about her that we would truly feel suspense, were any care given to it.
Her emotional state is another matter. A heart can’t help buy cry out for the girl in her semi-human moments. Like most Besson femmes, Cataleya, as she understands herself, is brought into life severely damaged. It forms in her a cast iron conviction, well defended from her surrogate father, expertly played by Cliff Curtis (Sunshine, Bringing Out the Dead), who trained her as a child in the skills necessary to even the score, but objects to her modern methods. The same can be said regarding her not-a-boyfriend Danny, portrayed less impressively by Michael Vartan (Alias), born the same year and cast from the same mould as Ed Burns.
In the role, Zoe Saldana is captivating. Her approach to the character is like the other side of the Natalie Portman coin. Instead of flooring us with an adolescent girl possessed with hard eyes of knowing, we’re struck by an ambitious twenty-something who, with a quiver, betrays the fact that she still has a lot of growing up to do. Further, Saldana seems to have learned from her fully motion captured role in Avatar how to find the part with her body foremost. In stealth and leisure, her contortions are that of a jungle cat (pay attention Halle Berry), and her silky skin and stature are as far departed from G.I. Jane as any warrior princess. Worth noting, most of this is performed in the same sized heatwave morning-wear that Portman’s Mathilda would have since grown out of.
It’s encouraging to see that Colombiana‘s director can surpass the more recent work of Tony Scott, instead of straight ripping it off as he did with The Transporter 3. Only the opening sequence educes a headache this time around. Still, it’s distinctly unimaginative. There are faux-Besson movies I like better. An action director without a mind for shooting is never completely redeemed by character development. It’s easy to be thankful for something typically neglected in the genre, but that’s not what we were promised.
Overall Score: 6.70 – Okay. (6s are just okay. These movies usually have many flaws, didn’t try to do anything special, or were poorly executed. Some will still love 6s, but most prefer to just rent them. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.)