Pierre Morel’s new film From Paris With Love is exceptionally tasteless. Admittedly, action movies are meant to be vile concoctions of guns, cars, drugs, and racial/sexual stereotypes, but From Paris With Love is so strikingly problematic that it cannot be considered a harmless testosterone-fuelled fantasy. Paying homage to the 1963 film From Russia With Love, it parasitically links itself to the brilliant James Bond films which, though riddled with their own problems, have always been vigorously entertaining.
The lacklustre plot is familiar. James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is the personal aid to the American ambassador in France, and is armed with good looks, a gorgeous French girlfriend, and a perfectly cut suit. On the side, he runs small jobs for the CIA in hopes of eventually becoming an agent. They partner him up with bad boy special agent Charlie Wax (John Travolta), who’s been sent to Paris to derail a terrorist attack. Wax drags Reece on a killing spree of bad guys, chasing Chinese cocaine lords followed by Pakistani terrorists. The duo also discovers photographs of Reece covering the walls of a terrorist den – as it turns out, Reece’s lovely girlfriend is a suicide bomber using him to gain access to the embassy, where she shows up with a bomb strapped to her torso.
The most noticeable flaw is the film’s ruthless racial stereotyping. The bad guys in the first half of the film are Chinese cocaine lords. After shooting about 30 of them, Reece asks Wax how many are left, to which he responds, “According to the last census? About a billion.” From Paris With Love not only perpetrates the stereotype of the Asian drug ring, but also resorts to cheap jokes about it. However, these thugs are only an obstacle to get to the real bad guys who are, of course, the Pakistani terrorists. The film upholds the paranoid mentality that any Middle Eastern person could be a suicide bomber, no matter how innocent they may appear. This is most disturbingly exemplified when an enjoyable dinner party is interrupted by Wax abruptly shooting a gorgeous female guest in the head. Reece’s girlfriend shouts, “Just because she’s Pakistani doesn’t mean she’s a terrorist!” But every on-screen Pakistani in the film is, in fact, a terrorist.
From start to finish, the film has a whopping total of four female characters. The uninspiring roster includes: two beautiful and brainwashed terrorists, one prostitute, and one bitchy middle-aged politician. Reece, along with the rest of us, is forced to learn valuable lessons: love is false, women are evil, and all Milddle Easterners are terrorists.
Travolta’s performance is the only redeeming aspect of the film. Almost unrecognizable – wearing a goatee, chains and an impressive amount of bulk – Travolta is able to shed his celebrity identity, effortlessly donning the persona of a rule-breaking tough guy who snorts, shoots, and screws his way through a film which would have completely (instead of mostly) flopped without his powerful onscreen presence.
From Paris With Love predictably ends in the buddy movie/Casablanca fashion: two guys, no girls, airplanes, and a flirty conversation about being partners. We cannot help but think of the line, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” which makes the film’s last pathetic appropriation of something far greater than itself.
From Paris With Love is now playing at AMC Forum 22.