From Paris with Love is a derivative pile of crap. By which I mean it's a Luc Besson picture.
Those of you who don't know Luc Besson are probably happy and well-adjusted individuals who will be worse off for finding out, but nevertheless, I will enlighten you: He's the French Dino de Laurentiis. Okay, that doesn't help for most of you....What I'm saying is that his good-to-crap ratio is terrible, yet people somehow continue to remember Leon and forget Kiss of the Dragon, The Messenger, and Lockout. His professional goal appears to be proving the French are every bit the equal of Hollywood when it comes to producing soulless, derivative action movies. He also got an endorsement as a great filmmaker from Armond White, which is kind of like getting praise from Hitler. Okay, I'm sorry, that wasn't fair at all. Hitler at least had some taste.
I'll give Besson this, though: He doesn't make mediocre pictures. His involvement almost guarantees the film will be pretty good or a catastrophic train wreck. In case you can't tell from its stupid name, From Paris with Love falls squarely into the latter camp. In the patented delusional state that characterize people like this, both Besson and star John Revolta are interested in making this crap into a film series, despite its being a box office disaster reviled by critics and given a token release in North America solely to avoid the dreaded "direct-to-DVD" label. Then again, John Revolta still hopes to make a sequel to Battlefield Earth, the greatest wide-release turkey of the last twenty years, so no further evidence is needed to demonstrate that involvement in Scientology destroys any connection to reality.
The film opens with a bait-and-switch, pretending in the first twenty minutes that it's a sophisticated spy thriller. James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, whose name irritates me because I'm always a little crestfallen when I realize it doesn't say John Rhys-Davies) is the mild-mannered aid to the Imperial ambassador to France, but he's also trying to break into the spy business. We see him get a call from his handler, never identified, who gives him some low-level tasks to carry out in relation to his position at the embassy. As Reese does the spy stuff--planting bugs in offices and the like--it's clear he's much more into the whole spy thing than into his day job, and he pushes the CIA sp00k to give him cooler things to do. Sp00k decides tonight's the night to see if Reese can hang in the big leagues and gives him a real assignment: He is to go to the airport to meet the hilariously monikored Sam Wax (Revolta) and be his sidekick while he completes a job.
Once Wax appears, the whole spy angle goes right out the window as the movie turns into Pulp Fiction remade as a cookie-cutter buddy cop film, with Wax and Reese shooting up the whole of Paris as they bring down a group of drug lords. Wax is simultaneously the best and worst thing about the film: worst because he's totally unbelievable as a highly-trained special forces badass, with his ridiculous shaved head and goatee and Tarentino-esque quirky love for McDonald's hamburgers; best because he's played by Revolta, wildly camping it up as he always will if you let him and looking fabulous in his ridiculous shaved head and goatee.
Wax is introduced shouting obscenities to the French customs officer refusing to allow him to bring copious quantities of his favorite energy drink into the country. This officer, instead of just shipping his ignorant ass back to wherever he came from or tossing him into a French prison somewhere--it's not like Wax is even officially working for the Imperial state--continues to patiently explain that bringing in food products is illegal and that Wax can buy the drink in Paris anyway, all while Wax screams obscenities at him.
This is a very weird scene. Here is Besson, a Frenchman who continues to work in France and produce French films, writing a scene in which the violent, rude, abusive American behaves appallingly to a Frenchman, whose response is eminently reasonable considering the abuse being heaped upon him, yet when the scene ends (Reese appears and slaps "diplomatic" stickers on the energy drinks, making them immune to customs), instead of getting angry that Americans have once again used their power to bully another country into getting their way, Besson means for us to fist-pump that this stodgy old bureaucrat has been put in his place by our rebellious cop-who-doesn't-play-by-the-rules. And we can't say that the producers monkeyed with his script, because Besson is also one of the producers. He either wrote this scene himself or read it after his co-writer wrote it and said, "Yep, put that in our film!"
It reminds me of the embarrassing scene with Chris Tucker accusing a casino employee (Saul Rubinek) of racism in Rush Hour 2. Tucker is angry and abusive for no good reason (he's only running a distraction so Jackie Chan can secretly go somewhere he isn't supposed to), and Rubinek, being both innocent and entirely awesome, responds calmly and politely, which only makes Tucker look like more and more of an ass as the scene goes on. Yet it's clear from the way the scene is shot and from Tucker's *cough* performance that we're supposed to find his antics hilarious and Rubinek's patient, honest denials as his stodgy-white-guy bafflement at Tucker's "black" fast-talking. Look, Besson, you might treat "the help" this way on your million dollar boat or whatever, but don't write a scene forcing me to watch somebody screaming obscenities for no reason at a person just trying to do her job. I'm not interested in your rich-people problems, ya wanker.
It turns out Wax was so adamant about his drinks because concealed among the cans is his pistol, a Sig Sauer because that's what Vincent used, and Collateral ain't gonna rip off itself! Reese declares that he's been "authorized to get you any weapon you need" (by whom?), but Wax isn't having any gun but his personal weapon. From this point on, the movie is just a bunch of *sigh* Matrix-rip-off shoot-outs and tedious imitation Pulp Fiction banter between the perpetually perplexed Reese and the collected, wise-cracking Wax. Revolta even does his "Royale with Cheese" line, just in case we didn't get that this movie is a Pulp Fiction-wannabe. Well, it could be worse, it could be a Michael Bay rip-off. Oh wait, that was Battleship. King Henry is fine in his role, though since he's playing the straight man to Terl's camp-tastic extravaganza, it's hard to notice his work. I don't know anybody else in this film, and after seeing their work here, I don't especially want to.
There's a hilarious scene that has Wax doing some of the cocaine they got from a raid right on a crowded trolley and forcing Reese to do some as well, claiming that being a little high will give them an edge. As Reese starts to trip out--or whatever the hell you call it when you do cocaine--Wax reveals they aren't going after this particular drug ring for the original reason Wax gave him, but because it's a money-making operation for terrorists. Reese reacts in utter shock to this, because...uh, I don't know. What difference does it make? They're going to terminate the drug kingpins with extreme prejudice either way. Why didn't Wax tell him the truth from the start? What was with the cover story? Hell if I know. I guess they just remembered at this point that they pitched this movie as a spy caper, so they'd better include some kind of plans-within-plans, whether it makes any sense or not.
I try to be fair to these things where I can, though, and even in something this derivative and lazy, I can find a few things I liked. Despite how much I bashed (deservedly) the movie for mostly abandoning the spy angle, there is a nod to the espionage plot towards the end of the movie that is pretty fun, though I won't spoil it here. As noted, being the admirer of egregious overacting I am, I loved every moment of Revolta's scenery chewing. He's not quite on the level of being trained to conquer galaxies while you were still learning to spell your name, but then even Nicolas Cage might never reach such delirious heights. As I noted, King Henry is actually pretty solid as Reese. There's a scene in which he has to speak several lines of dialogue in Mandarin, and I was genuinely shocked when he actually spoke the lines correctly. As in, I could understand the words he spoke, unlike say, every actor "speaking" Mandarin in Firefly. I don't know if he's actually learned a little of the language or if he was so dedicated to the cinema classic that is From Paris with Love that he went to the trouble of spending the weeks or months it would take to sound like he did, but either way it's impressive. (Though if it's the latter option, it's also a little sad, since that would make him more dedicated to the movie than anyone else involved, including Besson, who couldn't be bothered to do even cursory research into how the CIA actually operates.)
Oh, and I hardly ever recognize men as attractive--I normally have to ask friends if a particular guy is handsome or not--but I have to say that Rhys Meyers is distractingly good-looking. Like, as in, it's hard to listen to what he's saying good-looking. It's easy to see why Anne Bolelyn lost her head over him. (Get it? Lost her head? Oh bite me, it's fun!)
Still, it all ends in a silly car chase and shoot-out, with Wax blowing up a speeding car with a rocket launcher, as ghost CIA operatives are wont to do. This car chase includes my favorite character in the movie, Wax's driver, unseen until this point. This guy never speaks a line and calmly pulls off whatever insane car stunt Wax demands of him, all without a single complaint or mistake. If only Besson had hired His Stathamness for this role, this would've been the greatest scene ever.
In the end, not only is the Imperial ambassador not at all put out that his right-hand man Reese was using his position to spy for the CIA, but despite Wax and Reese killing dozens of French citizens and blowing up a number of cars and buildings, the French authorities are okay with it, since the bad guys' plan was foiled.
The film ends with Wax and Reese riding off into the sunset together, only this time Reese is packing his very own Desert fucking Eagle.