In the annals of buddy films, From Paris with Love really isn’t all that weird. It’s not as bizarre as Whoopi Goldberg and a talking dinosaur, à la Theodore Rex, or as dazzlingly surreal as Will Smith and Kevin Kline in Wild Wild West. True to the usual formula, we get a big, aging star (John Travolta) as Charlie Wax, a loose cannon and breezy death-dealer, and a younger actor (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who plays up the rational side as his conscience-laden cerebral sidekick.
But From Paris with Love tries hard to be more Hong Kong than Hollywood. Like his Chinese colleagues (John Woo, Jet Li), writer/producer Luc Besson clearly loves cop dramas that turn into lavish arsenal displays and unseemly violence sprung on seemingly ordinary settings. In a Chinese restaurant, Wax, who has just drilled the whole wait staff, suddenly shoots at the ceiling, whereby a cascade of cocaine comes pouring down around him. Paris takes a while to get going, but after bazookas on a highway, a sliding rooftop chase, and an embassy full of potentially explosive burkas, we almost don’t notice that this second pairing of Besson and director Pierre Morel is just picking up where Taken’s ethnic killing spree left off. The wholesale offensiveness is only awful when you think about it—and when guns are banging away, we get little time to think.
On the other hand, Besson and Morel seem to want us to worry. About halfway through, Meyers’s character has to rationalize his desire for adventure with an awful bloodstained act that he witnesses at very close range. Later, he’s forced to choose between the power of love and a bullet in the brain as the most effective way to solve international conflicts. Can you guess which way the troubled protagonist with a huge American gun in his hand and a Hollywood bankroll behind him will go? But of course you can, mon ami.