Watch out when the American CIA comes to Europe in any movie made by the collaboration between French filmmakers Pierre Morel and Luc Besson because the body count will be high and the local infra-structure will certainly suffer.
While both of these films let their leads hunt down and kill prodigious amounts of bad guys, one of them wanted to be Taken seriously while the other one merely wants to let you know that it’s a comically violent gift sent you From Paris with Love.
The truth is if the CIA really had any agents who behave like Liam Neeson or John Travolta, the entire War on Terrorism would probably have been wrapped up by now. And Paris would probably be burning.
The slick action-comedy From Paris with Love throws the bulky, bearded and newly bald John Travolta into the city of romance and lets him shoot the place up while trying to thwart a possible terrorist attack. He plays a swaggering force-of-nature CIA agent named Charlie Wax who has a weakness for sappy pop music standards like “(They Long to Be) Close to You” and very little respect for airport security measures.
He’s teamed up with a low-level embassy CIA-wannabe named James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, with a Brooklyn accent) who is soon hopelessly in over his head with his loose cannon partner. The streets of Paris, meanwhile, become pretty damn unsafe. And, of course, Reese is going to man up at the exact moment he needs to.
The Defending Champion
Morel and Besson had a big hit with Taken, just a year ago. That’s the movie where Liam Neeson wipes out hoardes of sex-enslaving Albanians who have kidnapped his daughter. The way he’s willing to torture cops and robbers to get his way makes him feel like a very cool and lethally trained Dick Cheney.
Neeson’s Brian Mills is an ex-company man who just wants to re-build a relationship with his daughter and when she is taken hostage in the middle of the night, he flies off to Paris where he roams the streets, mean and otherwise, with only one goal in mind — to save his daughter. Well, two goals, the other being to brutally punish any of these guys who have laid a hand on her. He also shows off prodigious skill at handling cell-phones.
Honestly, you may have seen From Paris with Love before if you’ve seen Rush Hour 3 in that it has that same kind of schticky character-repartee. Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ James Reese is the boring half of this buddy comedy, a guy who plays it by the book, and Travolta’s Charlie Wax is the guy that rips the book in half and burns it. Get it? The film is basically a collection of moments where Wax behaves with reckless violence and Reese is appalled (or at least forced into hiding). Still, I have to say that Rush Hour was never this good. From Paris with Love may feel familiar in the macro but the execution is pretty damn stylish.
Taken, on the other hand, is a solo act and Liam Neeson has seldom been as good as he is in this film. He’s constantly on the move, resourceful as hell, and deadly all the way. It is more than a little exploitive to try for a film that is full of “heart” and have a slaughter and torture ratio as high as this one, though, and particularly at the end, it starts to get to you.
Even though both films are full of manic action, explosions, car chases and mayhem, the tone of the two films could still not be more different. Taken wants you to take it seriously, to relate to the plight of the kidnapped daughter and feel the pain and rage of the unleashed killer dad. From Paris with Love announces from its title on (From Russia with Love anyone?) that it’s a bit of a send-up, an homage. There’s humor and heart at the beginning and the end of Taken, but in-between it’s relentless action with a scowl on its face. From Paris with Love isn’t afraid to go for the laugh wherever and whenever it can find it, but it’s just as violent. Plus, there’s just way too many people killed way too easily for it ever to be credible for a single second. Travolta in this film doesn’t need a partner; he needs a morgue assistant.
I really love a great John Travolta performance and he’s great — if over-the-top — in From Paris with Love. But he’s not a revelation. He’s borrowing bits and pieces of characer from his other films from Pulp Fiction to The Taking of Pelham 123. And he seems to play parallel to Rhys Meyers rather than off or with him. He’s soloing in a buddy comedy.
Liam Neeson, in contrast, did something miraculous. He manages to make an upper-middle-age guy into an action hero, for real, something that other actors like Harrison Ford tried and fell short doing. Neeson’s Brian Mills would probably lose a fight with Jason Bourne, thanks to the edge to youth, but he would hardly roll over. Mills is a new character that makes passion scary.
From Paris with Love is a good film, not great, with moments that are awfully well-staged and fun to watch. But the Smackdown goes to a film that unexpectedly lit audiences on fire a year ago. Taken remains the champion.