Pierre Morel is a hack. He has no vision. He has no style. He has no discernible talent. He’s as generic as they come — a company man. A yes man. Soulless. He shoots whats on the page. Nothing more. Nothing less. He accepts studio notes with a goddamn sycophantic smile. Yes sir. No sir. Sorry about the slight edginess there, sir. Let me round that out for the studio-friendly demographic, sir. Morel is a studio hired hand. He is the Shawn Levy of action films.
And he’s also the director of the Dune remake. And when he’s done with it, Dune is gonna be a family-friendly piece of shit action adventure. There’s probably going to be a theme park ride. It will give over the humps, do a simple loop, and return to its base, leaving its passengers satisfyingly bored. It’ll be a safe and predictable, and then they’ll gouge you $25 for the photo of you, arms raised in the air, hair swept back, and yawning.
There are worse action movies than From Paris with Love but there are few as generic. It’s straight-line predictable and yet it’s completely nonsensical, like a connect-the-dot abstract painting. Set in Paris, Jonathon Rhys-Meyers stars as James Reece, an assistant to an American diplomat attempting to work his way up the covert operative ladder. Minutes after getting engaged to a local woman, Caroline (Kasia Smutniak), Reece gets his chance at that promotion — he need only drive around an American operative, Charlie Wax (John Travolta) while he’s on a mission in Paris.
That mission? A series of completely random chase and shoots with a Chinese kitchen staff, drug dealers, a pimp, and cocaine manufacturers, all in the service of national security. How it gets there, however, involves one of the most spectacularly brainless twists in action-movie history, a twist surprising only in that you’d never imagine a screenwriter would choose such an obvious route.
Morel’s only talent as a director, it seems, is cramming as many shoot-out scenes in one film as possible, though they rarely rise above the run-of-the-mill: Bad guys shoot and miss while the good guys kill everyone with absolutely no inventiveness. With Taken, at least, Morel had Liam Neeson to work with, who was surely 90 percent of the reason that that movie was even watchable. Here, he has straight-laced Rhys-Meyers and “bad-ass” Travolta. I used to have a British roommate who could only do an American accent if he tried to imitate John Wayne. His accent was better than Rhys-Meyers’ in this film. Meanwhile, goat-teed batshit Travolta can occasionally be entertaining, but he’s given absolutely nothing to work with here besides cornball fists of ham.
In fact, it’s apparent that the script comes from someone whose second language is English — the dialogue is atrociously simple, as though the writer doesn’t quite understand American cultural idioms, and the poor stabs at modern American lingo come off like bad Yakoff Smirnoff doing an impression of spectacularly lame “In Living Color” era hip-hop ebonics. Travolta says things like “jive” and “par-tay.” and I swear to you, the one attempt at a running joke in the film involves Travolta’s obsession with cheeseburgers, or as they’re called in France, a “royale with cheese.” It was akin to a 2010 Red Roof Inn commercial with William Sanderson introducing his brother Daryl and his other brother Daryl. I actually felt embarrassed for Travolta, who is now that much closer to pitch man for Hertz.
I don’t even want to go into the ending, not for fear of spoiling it (you should be so lucky), but because the story itself was written by Luc Besson, and the big finish has some humiliating similarities to Besson’s Fifth Element and, if it’s possible, it’s even less befitting this film. It’s a good thing, really, that From Paris with Love opens on Super Bowl weekend — if Morel is lucky, no one will see it. Maybe, then, he’ll get to keep his Dune gig before fans of the original stage his suicide.