John Travolta shaved his head, dyed his goatee and gave himself and his stunt double a helluva workout in From Paris With Love, a gonzo spy shoot-'em-up from the folks who gave us Taken.
But even though the action is every bit as explosive and the jokey tone is an amusing departure from Taken's serious man with "a very particular set of skills," From Paris With Love is a bloody buddy picture that tries too hard.
Travolta is Charlie Wax, a loose cannon shipped to Paris for a mission. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is Reece, his in-country American embassy handler and driver, a functionary who longs to move up the espionage ranks. When he hooks up with Charlie, his wish becomes his nightmare.
Charlie is chaos and carnage incarnate — a trigger-happy killer who's a bit too old for his hip-hop wardrobe and his slang.
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"If you want to be a 'secret agent man,' you've got to roll like a secret agent man!" Charlie declares. He bullies French customs officers so he can smuggle his gun into the country, then sings to his gun, "Mrs. Jones," as he assembles it — "Me-ee a-aand Missus, Mrs. Jones."
And he blows through Paris like a bald bull in a drug-smuggling China shop, riddling nefarious characters of various ethnicities like so much Swiss fromage.
Travolta seems to be having a blast as this guy, going all Swordfish over-the-top, referencing the Hong Kong action films of the Shaw brothers and goofing on his Pulp Fiction past in his choice of French cuisine (a "royale with cheese").
Rhys Meyers has the tougher role, mastering an American accent but struggling mightily to give this chase-and-shoot-and-chase-some-more actioner some heart and conscience. Reece is reluctant to pull a trigger, anxious to avoid confrontations and bloodshed. And Charlie ain't having it. He tries to make his partner man up, but learning that the kid was into Star Trek doesn't help.
"Kirk or Spock?"
Director Pierre Morel, a Luc Besson protégé, gives this Paris With Pistols a little pace and a smidgen of flair. One shootout, in a mannequin factory, is straight out of the Stanley Kubrick filmography. But there's no escaping the grinding gears of an American buddy picture that loses something in the translation.