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John Travolta, left, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in From Paris With Love.
John Travolta, left, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in From Paris With Love.

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  • Country USA
  • Language English

From Paris with Love

  • Directed by Pierre Morel
  • Written by Adi Hasak
  • Based on a story by Luc Besson
  • Starring John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers
  • Classification: 14A

The one thing that's briefly enjoyable about From Paris with Love is John Travolta's appearance. In a black leather jacket, with a shaved bald head and a goatee and a perpetual scarf to hide his jowls, he looks like a well-fed pimp or a gay bear.

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When Travolta first appears in the movie at a Paris customs office, screaming abuse at the French officials because they won't let him bring in his case filled with energy drinks, it takes a moment to recognize his familiar twinkle. Sure, he may be playing a homicidal racist undercover operator, Charlie Wax, but he's still Tony Manero and the dad from Look Who's Talking Too.

These days, it's often necessary to try to find a way to enjoy Travolta in spite of the movies he chooses. In this desperately unoriginal action thriller - a sort of mash-up of Training Day and Rush Hour 3 - he is b-a-a-d and not just in a hand-slapping, I'm-down-with-it-brother way. To be fair, his campy performance might work if he were on the same page as the filmmakers, who are primarily interested in running up the body count.

The story comes from producer Luc Besson ( La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element) and is directed by Pierre Morel ( Taken) with spasmodic action scenes and mirthless attempts at comedy. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays a nerdy American embassy aide named James Reece who falls under the mentorship of Travolta's not-so-undercover agent trying to stop a drug ring and a terrorist attack. The Irish Rhys Meyers, wearing glasses, sporting a sprinkling of facial hair and speaking in a jarring Noo Yawk accent, plays the right-hand man for the U.S. ambassador (Richard Durden), but he really wants to be a spy.

James lives with his gorgeous French girlfriend, Caroline (Kasia Smutniak), in a Paris flat and runs small errands for the Central Intelligence Agency until, one night, he gets a call to spring a man named Charlie Wax from French customs. They go to a Chinese restaurant, where Travolta whips out a pair of Uzis and kills everyone. There's some connection to the cocaine that begins drizzling through the bullet holes in the ceiling, which leads to expeditions to other grubby interiors, where Charlie kills many more Asians.

"How many more of them do you think there are?" asks James.

"My census?" says Wax. "About a billion."

He means Chinese people, of course, but if you're concerned that sounds racist, at least it's transitory. Halfway through the film, the bad guys suddenly turn into Pakistani terrorists. Nor is ethnicity the only indication of disposability; there are also some women of different ethnicities to be shot.

Between shootings, there are chases and an ongoing shtick where Rhys Meyers's character totters about carrying a Chinese vase full of cocaine. Predictably, Paris provides the backdrop of backstreet grit and postcard prettiness. The climax involves a chase scene in which Charlie hangs out a car window with a bazooka, trying to pop a terrorist in another car en route to the airport. It should appeal to anyone who has ever struggled to get to the airport during rush hour, and if it isn't a video game already, it should be.

Follow on Twitter: @liamlacey

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