Colombiana isn’t the first film to offer the sight of Zoe Saldaña firing guns and exacting revenge in nothing but form-fitting camis and hip-hugging panties. It’s just the dumbest. Far be it from Midwest Film Journal to judge those who enjoy the pleasure of watching this lithe, lovely woman righteously stomp some fools. But renting 2010’s The Losers offers that same fix at a lower price, with more flair and a slightly higher movie IQ.
Luc Besson long ago abandoned directorial duty on potent, if puerile, films like The Fifth Element. But as a writer / producer, he’s since opened a drawer of Eurotrash-holiday action scripts: Taken, From Paris with Love, Kiss of the Dragon. This isn’t bad, mind you. It’s a nice quirk of Besson’s films that any greeting could erupt in gunfire. And it’s OK to set aside maturity and watch Liam Neeson hunt pederast sheikhs, Jet Li bash brains with billiards or John Travolta rock a keffiyeh. But at the very least, those movies churned on giddy, stupid energy or an engaging character, which is more than can be said for Besson and Robert Mark Kamen’s woefully scripted Colombiana. Many things explode. Nothing ever ignites.
Saldaña is Cataleya, a professional killer whose future was forged as a girl when she saw her parents gunned down in Colombia. Don Luis (Beto Benites), a brandy-sipping drug dealer, dispatched his right-hand man, Marco (Jordi Mollà), to do the job. In a chilling confrontation with Cataleya, Marco refers to her father in the past tense before the smoke has cleared. Mollà is always a barking-dog bad guy (Bad Boys II, Knight and Day), but at least Colombiana gives him this subtle moment of menace before his usual shtick.
Escaping Marco and fleeing to Chicago, Cataleya is trained to kill by Uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis). Curtis is not just a New Zealander who’s Hollywood’s go-to-guy for spin-the-wheel ethnicity. He’s a consummate pro able to make it through Colombiana’s most ridiculous scene without laughing — in which he empties a clip into a speeding car on a crowded street for no apparent reason and walks away clean.
It’s no wonder Cataleya is badass. How badass? She eats ramen with her hands. She subsists solely on a diet of takeout, lollipops and stomped ass. She drives an armored car as a recreational vehicle. She has raw meat-eating dogs to do her bidding. She is, as an enemy says, “like mist at the door of a mouth of a wall,” which, as everyone knows, is just Zen for “badass.” Plus, her signature in bumping off bad guys — a chest drawing of the flower with which she shares her name — has vexed the FBI for four years. It might have been less vexing had they called in a horticulture expert to analyze the drawings. But Special Agent Ross (Lennie James) has no clue what it means for four years until a custodian conveniently married to a Colombian explains it to him.
Of course, Cataleya’s been making herself easier to spot these days. She’s straying from paid hits to personal-vengeance killings to flush out Don Luis and Marco, whom she knows to now be under the protection of the CIA. (Don’t ask how she seemingly learned this, but not the specifics of their whereabouts.) Plus, she’s also hot and heavy with a stubble-faced artist (Michael Vartan). As she closes in on Don Luis and Marco, she endangers those to whom she’s grown close.
If all you need is seven angles of one parkour leap, cool shots of fire whooshing through walls and dramatically gurgling water coolers, director Olivier Megaton is your guy. That appears to be the extent of his capabilities, as he’s unable to coax more than a boilerplate performance out of the usually charismatic Saldaña.
Colombiana desperately wants us to feel for Cataleya’s lonely lot in life, especially when it trots out Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt.” But if it can’t even spell the word “personal” correctly in its end credits, how can it possibly understand the definition?