Luc Besson seems to be finding a formula with his foreign-produced action films aimed towards American audiences. Throw in an easily digestible plot, a burgeoning star and a character actor in a limited but memorable role. Get a director with more a visual flair as opposed to a story-teller, make it inexpensively without sacrificing a professional look and market it well and you have a film that’s the equivalent to a low budget horror film; it might not burn up the box office charts but it will make money.
It worked with From Paris With Love, which put Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and John Travolta working together to prevent a terrorist group. It worked better with Taken which gave us Liam Neeson, divorced from Famke Janssen, trying to rescue his daughter from foreign kidnappers. And now Besson is trying to do the same with Zoe Saldana exacting revenge on the people who killed her family as a child, her uncle (Cliff Curtis) acting as her handler. But unfortunately it’s not as good as the other two films that follow this formula.
Cataleya Restrepo (Saldana) watched her parents die as a young child, barely escaping from the drug dealers with her life. Coming to America from her native Colombia as a child, she grows up with only one thing on her mind: vengeance. Turned into a killer by her uncle (Cliff Curtis), Cataleya begins her rampage by trying to draw out of hiding the man who ordered her family’s deaths. Chased by an FBI agent (Lennie James) wanting to solve a string of murders bearing her signature, it becomes a cat and mouse game between the FBI agent, the Colombian drug dealers and Cataleya to see who’ll strike first.
If one didn’t know that Luc Besson produced, and wrote, this film than it’s easy to see from the film’s visual cues and story-telling manner. Colombiana has the same visual style and signature moments that defined Taken and From Paris With Love. There isn’t a moment or scene that doesn’t have its roots in either of those two films in this one; there isn’t a unique or original moment to be found in Colombiana that hasn’t been before and done better. This feels more like the unused moments from Luc Besson’s screenplays, altered to make a cohesive storyline with a female protagonist.
In terms of female protagonists, though, Zoe Saldana does a fairly solid job in her first lead role in an action film. What her character lacks in originality Saldana adds screen presence and charisma to make Cataleya a character we can get behind. The film does make some alterations to allow her a more feminine grace than the typical Besson hero, making her much more reliant on agility as opposed to brute strength that the thin actress couldn’t credibly pull off. It’s a nice touch in a genre that gives us an actress like Angelina Jolie in Salt, built similarly to Saldana in musculature, as having the same sort of brute cinematic punching power that someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone would credibly have.
Cataleya is more cerebral and planning oriented as opposed to physical; we can buy her taking on a group in “one-man army” mode because it’s a planned attack that doesn’t involve her knocking people out with one punch. During the film’s last fight scene she holds her own with a much larger male opponent by using her wits and her surroundings. She’s outmatched in the muscle department but uses her surroundings to hold her own. It’s refreshing in a way.
If this was an audition to get her into the same sorts of roles Angelina Jolie gets offered in the genre it ought to be considered a success; Saldana owns the screen every time she’s on it. When she’s a much larger star years from now Colombiana will be a film pointed to as perhaps not successful as a film but proof that her ability to command the screen was evident.
Director: Olivier Megaton Notable Cast: Zoe Saldana, Cliff Curtis, Michael Vartan, Lennie James, Graham McTavish Writer(s): Luc Besson, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.