By Ben Rowe
From Paris With Love sneaks its way into theatres this Friday underneath everyone’s radar — except those taking potshots at the ignominious downfall of John Travolta. And while it is true that Travolta’s main concern in From Paris With Love appears to be reclaiming his lost cool, the most shocking thing about the movie is that he actually succeeds.
From Paris turns out to be a remarkably stylish and fun espionage thriller from French director Pierre Morel, who has recently wowed audiences with actions films District 13 and last year’s Taken starring Liam Neeson. He has the same passion for beautiful imagery here, shooting the French capital with such love and care that even seedy ghettos appear dazzling. Written by Luc Besson, the man behind the Transporter series, the script is both exciting and hilarious, adding some classic spy movie twists for good or ill.
The film follows Reese (John Rhys Meyers), an employee of the American Embassy in Paris who dreams of being a suave super-spy. In addition to his day job, he occasionally performs clandestine actions for an unnamed arm of U.S. intelligence. Finally, Reese is given his chance to break into the big leagues: he must assist top agent Charlie Wax (Travolta) on assignment in Paris, largely by driving Wax around and following orders. Wax is highly unpredictable with a loud, reckless, shoot first attitude towards his job and Reese soon discovers that in the dangerous world of espionage, he is in way over his head.
While stylishly shot, by its third act From Paris With Love falls on spy movie cliches like tracing the call and enhancing the audio file. The plot itself turns out to be fairly pedestrian also, not really worth raising your blood pressure over.
Travolta turns out to be the movie’s saving grace. He’s overweight, bald and stealing lines from Pulp Fiction, but also funny as hell and stealing every single scene he’s in. His character’s brazen attitude and antics become the most watchable parts, even if Travolta’s weight gain renders some of the fast-paced action scenes semi-ridiculous, like late Sean Connery-era Bond flicks.
The main problem is that Meyers is terribly miscast as Reese. He’s the film’s protagonist, but comes off as a weasely coward. Instead of feeling sorry for him you’re happy when misfortune strikes. Frankly, he’s just not that good of an actor, and up against Travolta’s scenery chewing he’s simply not effective.