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From Paris With Love

Film strains itself to avoid doing anything the slightest bit innovative or clever.

With:
Charlie Wax - John Travolta James Reese - Jonathan Rhys Meyers Caroline - Kasia Smutniak Ambassador Bennington - Richard Durden Wong - Bing Yin Nichole - Amber Rose Revah Foreign Minister - Eric Godon Rashid - Chems Eddine Dahmani

Presumably pitched as a fusion of “Training Day” and “Crank 2” — but ultimately nowhere near as fun as that premise probably sounds — “From Paris With Love” practically strains itself to avoid doing anything the slightest bit innovative or clever. Provided the notion of a jive-talking John Travolta decked out like Rob Halford doesn’t prove too large a deterrent, a number of undiscriminating action fans will likely fill the seats for this effort from “Taken” director Pierre Morel, again called upon to salvage one of the slower weekends on the release calendar.

From Paris With Love” reps another example of the ways in which action films increasingly mimic videogames. In particular, a long shootout that takes place through the innards of a Chinese restaurant is strikingly similar to a setpiece in “Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and Damned” — although unlike the film, the game shows a degree of wit and an appreciable sense of space.

Pic features a somnolent Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Reese, an assistant at the American embassy in Paris who lives a dull double-life as a low-ranking errand boy for the CIA. Soon enough, he’s called upon for his first real-life espionage mission — and paired with trigger-happy Charlie Wax (Travolta), introduced trying to sneak a suitcase full of energy drinks through customs, and five minutes later seen running in super-slow motion while yelling and firing two Uzis at the same time. (Whether he also endorses Axe Body Spray and Mountain Dew is left unsaid.)

The script makes little attempt to explain the conspiracy the pair are tasked with unraveling — midway through, the pic’s villains turn from Chinese coke dealers to Pakistani suicide bombers without explanation — instead hustling them from bordello to banlieue to the top of the Eiffel Tower. There are certainly moments of intentional humor here — Reese carries around a large vase filled with cocaine for a quarter of the movie — but they clash awkwardly with the pic’s penchant for deadening violence; toward the end, one especially brutal moment hardly even registers as a jolt, much less a joke.

To his credit, Travolta hams it up with the kind of laissez-faire irony that might have made the film a tongue-in-cheek pleasure, had his attitude extended to the filmmakers.

Production values are schizophrenic, alternating between stylish compositions and grainy, washed-out B-reel, while the uber-bombastic score generates a fair amount of unintended humor on its own.

From Paris With Love

France

Production: A Lionsgate (in U.S.) release of a EuropaCorp, M6 Films, Grive Prods. and Apipoulai Prods. co-production, with the participation of Canal Plus, TPS Star and M6. Produced by India Osborne. Executive producer, Virginie Besson-Silla. Co-executive producers, Anson Downes, Linda Rae Favila. Directed by Pierre Morel. Screenplay, Adi Hasak, based on a story by Luc Besson.

Crew: Camera (color), Michel Abramowicz; editor, Frederic Thoraval; music, David Buckley; production designer, Jacques Bufnoir; set decorator, Veronique Melery; costume designers, Olivier Beriot, Corinne Bruand; sound (Dolby), Lucien Balibar, Frederic Dubois, Francois-Joseph Hors; stunt supervisor, Philippe Guegan; special effects supervisor, Philippe Hubin; visual effects supervisor, Roxane Fechner; visual effects, Eclair VFX; assistant director, Stephane Moreno Carpio; casting, Swan Pham. Reviewed at Raleigh Studios, Los Angeles, Jan. 27, 2010. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 92 MIN.

Cast: Charlie Wax - John Travolta James Reese - Jonathan Rhys Meyers Caroline - Kasia Smutniak Ambassador Bennington - Richard Durden Wong - Bing Yin Nichole - Amber Rose Revah Foreign Minister - Eric Godon Rashid - Chems Eddine Dahmani

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