From the War on Terror’s Greatest Satirist

02/05/2010 4:00 AM |

From Paris with Love
Directed by Pierre Morel

From Paris with Love, a politico-hilarious buddy action-comedy, concerns an American special operative invading a foreign country (France, home of chess-playing sex crazies) and engaging in indiscriminate murder and mass destruction of property. Hey-just like last year’s Taken! But this time, it’s funny. Director Morel, who also helmed that exuberant Liam Neeson revenge fantasy, is shaping up to be the War on Terror’s greatest, and perhaps only, satirist.

John Travolta stars as the secret agent and has a gleeful time, his best work in years, embodying the archetypal boorish American, with his muthafuckin this and cocksuckin that, his love of firearms, energy drinks and cheeseburgers (there’s a cute Pulp Fiction reference), his mild racism and action hero bons mots. He’s rude to waiters, encourages coke-snorting on the Eiffel Tower elevator(!), and initiates scenes of epic violence, like the “Shaw Brothers chop suey show,” a guns-blazing shooting spree, he puts on in at a Chinese restaurant; partly, it’s for the benefit of Jonathan Rhys Myers, who plays his new partner, a mousy, uptight bureaucrat/junior diplomat/secret-agent-wannabe. Otherwise, it’s part of their scheme to avenge the niece of the defense secretary who OD’d on some bad blow; or, wait, to take down a drug-money-financed terrorist operation. Or, wait…

Well, what they’re up to isn’t the point—it’s how they’re up to it. Working from Adi Hasak’s screenplay, based on a story by Luc Besson, Morel is subversively mocking (as he did, again, in Taken) the post-9/11 American worldview in which terrorists are ubiquitous, just another European signifier, like the film’s cool jazz and foggy Eiffel-dominated skylines. From Paris with Love plays out like Cheney’s wet dreams made real: there are so many bad guys—essentially, every “ethnic” immigrant in Paris, even the ostensibly harmless dinner party guest—deserving of death by righteous American hands that it’s a challenge to kill them all. (In an aside, Travolta and J.R.M. decide they’re killing, on average, one an hour.) In one of the many superbly handled set pieces—Morel ranks with Nimrod Antal as the most competent action directors working today—Travolta not only shoots a dozen Chinese gangsters in a warehouse, but also reduces several dozen mannequins to dust. It’s Morel’s way of cartooning the American Weltanschauung: the more death, destruction and dismemberment, the more fun!

Opens February 5

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