When you see that crazy French filmmaker Luc Besson is involved with a movie, you know you’re in for something giddy, energetic, over-the-top, completely ludicrous, crazy, and French. About 80 percent of the time — “The Fifth Element,” “The Transporter,” “District B13,” etc. — it’s highly entertaining, too.
“From Paris with Love” falls — nay, plummets, head first, screaming — into that category. Besson is only credited with the story (the screenplay is by Adi Hasak, who wrote the forgotten 1997 Charlie Sheen thriller “Shadow Conspiracy”), but the “story” is an insane conglomeration of twists and turns from a hundred espionage pictures. The film has Besson’s Euro-cheesy scent all over it: the gleefully wanton violence, the performances that are somewhere between campy and cool, the dialogue that sounds like it was written in another language and translated inexpertly into English. Besson, who is also the film’s producer, is like Michael Bay, only with style and wit.
The director is Pierre Morel, who made the Besson-scripted “District B13” and “Taken.” “From Paris with Love” isn’t as frenetic as the former or as thrilling as the latter, but it’s definitely cut from the same cloth. In Paris, a square, eager young man named Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) works as an assistant to the U.S. ambassador (Richard Durden), but on the side he does low-level secret work for what I’m guessing is the CIA. He wants to graduate to special ops, and he gets his chance when he’s assigned as a temporary partner to an American spy named Charlie Wax.
Charlie Wax, ladies and gentlemen! Someone made a movie and thought one of the major characters should be named Charlie Wax!
What’s more, they thought he should be played by John Travolta, and that Travolta should be groomed to look like a leather daddy (think Mr. Slave on “South Park”), and that Travolta should be given free rein to do whatever the hell he wants. So Charlie Wax is a cheerfully profane, lascivious, and reckless nutjob, a cross between Mel Gibson in “Lethal Weapon” and Nicolas Cage in anything. He’s in Paris to investigate a drug ring run by the Chinese, though it’s hard to tell whether he’s for or against drugs. It’s clear that he loves shooting people, though.
Trailing behind him, learning the ropes and trying to stay alive, is Reece, whom the Irish Rhys Meyers plays with a nasally white American accent. Reece can’t believe what a loose cannon Wax is! Their forever-unseen boss actually tells Reece, on the telephone, “His playbook’s a little unorthodox, but he gets the job done!” That’s the kind of willfully generic dialogue we’re talking about, except with Wax, who has a colorful way of speaking all his own, one that involves a certain term beginning with “mother.”
The film’s basic system is to give Wax opportunities to beat guys up and make crude one-liners while Reece tries not to upset his saucy European girlfriend (Kasia Smutniak), who doesn’t know all the details of what he does for a living. But the crazy guy/normal guy partnership isn’t even close to being the main idea. The main idea is well-shot, flamboyantly acted scenes of mayhem and violence. It’s funny, a lot of it, but the movie isn’t parodying old-school action-movie excesses. It’s wallowing in them, with great enthusiasm. It’s a movie that knows what it is, and it does a pretty good job of being it.
B (1 hr., 32 min.; )