The Olivier Megaton-directed “Colombiana” may not be the brainiest of actioners, but one of the merits of producer Luc Besson’s latest brainchild is that fanboys worldwide will come away with a scrap of horticultural knowledge as well as a pretty good time. Sexy, vengeful contract killer Cataleya (a feline Zoe Saldana) is named after a Colombian orchid species, signing her victims with a lipstick drawing of her floral namesake. Solidly produced if slightly generic English-language pic should do midrange biz in France, where it bowed July 27, and OK numbers Stateside, where it goes out Aug. 26.
Rather than adopting a tired, flashback-heavy approach, Megaton and screenwriters Besson and regular collaborator Robert Mark Kamen let Cataleya’s childhood trauma play out upfront in an audacious, half-hour prologue set in 1992 Bogota. Still a little girl, Cataleya (Amandla Stenberg) witnesses the assassination of her next of kin by crime boss Don Luis (Beto Benites) and his vicious right-hand man, Marco (Jordi Molla).
Cataleya decides she wants to become a killer when she grows up, so she can properly exact revenge on Luis, Marco and their gang. Fifteen years later, played by Saldana, she’s a pretty — and pretty impressive — contract killer working for her Chicago-based uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis).
The first assignment auds get to see her in is an elaborately staged hit inside a prison, an intricately staged and executed 10-minute-plus setpiece that reps one of the pic’s two action highlights. The second is a mano-a-mano fight in a hacienda bathroom, an intentionally messier sequence that injects a welcome dose of reality and real danger into the proceedings — something lacking in the film’s more bombastic and generic shootouts and explosions.
Much of the viewer’s investment will depend on his or her concern for Cataleya’s plight, and this is where Saldana’s contribution is key. Despite being a ruthless killer with a killer bod and a predilection for skimpy, tight-fitting apparel (costume designer Olivier Beriot seems to have taken a cue from the “Avatar” thesp’s motion-capture body suit), she not only exudes sexiness but also generates a certain amount of sympathy.
Saldana’s handful of scenes with her artist b.f. (Michael Vartan), who has no clue what she does for a living, help humanize the otherwise solitary killing machine. And three tense confrontations — in a schoolyard and a library with Emilio, and during a home visit with the FBI agent on her tail (Lennie James) — nicely juxtapose plotting and characterization between action setups.
Like all action pics from Besson’s EuropaCorp, including helmer Megaton’s “The Transporter 3,” “Colombiana” is slickly assembled. Locations, including Mexico, the U.S. and France, and Patrick Durand’s production design are expertly showcased in Romain Lacourbas’ sun-dappled widescreen lensing; editing and score are unobtrusive.
The work of stunt coordinator Michel Julienne (“Taken,” the “Transporter” films) and fight choreographer Alain Figlarz (“The Bourne Identity,” “Largo Winch”) is pro but has a greatest-hits feel rather than its own identity.