Yeah, it’s dumb. It’s really dumb. It’s so dumb that if it were a person From Paris With Love would be placed in a facility to prevent it from harming itself or others. It has some painfully bad dialogue and a plot that waffles between borderline incoherence and shameless predictability. And these are actually some of its finer qualities—none of which prevent the film from having a certain addle-brained appeal. What makes this witless—and morally dubious—concoction succeed as passable entertainment is that it doesn’t pretend to be intellectually capable of much more than scratching its name in the dirt with a stick. There’s something kind of charming about that—in a lobotomized way.
Running a brisk 92 minutes, From Paris With Love (yes, the title is meant to evoke that of the second James Bond movie—I’ve no idea why) is a fairly generic odd-couple buddy movie. The normal character is James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers doing a credible American accent), assistant to the U.S. ambassador (TV actor Richard Durden) and wannabe CIA operative. For reasons the film never actually makes clear (perhaps because it doesn’t understand them either), Reece occasionally gets low-level spy-stuff instructions from a voice on his cell phone (is this really how spies are recruited?). Having successfully—if awkwardly—bugged the office of some French bigwig, he’s “rewarded” by being partnered with a singularly improbable agent named Charlie Wax (John Travolta). Mayhem and a good deal of enjoyable scenery-chewing by Travolta follows.
To the degree that there’s anything like a coherent plot, the film follows the duo around Paris as Wax bullies, blasts, bludgeons and bombs his way through a variety of endlessly expendable—and generally ethnic—extras. The reason behind all this carnage is never made very clear. The first section of the film involves chasing Chinese cocaine dealers (I think). I’m a little skeptical that cocaine traffickers would name their Chinese restaurant front “Le Lotus de Neige,” but I can go with that, I guess, since I’m perfectly cool with Travolta shooting up their ceiling and having cocaine pour out of the bullet holes. This, in turn, leads to Reece being ordered to catch the cascading contraband in a Chinese vase that he then proceeds to lug around Paris for a reel or so. That’s the kind of inanity it’s hard not to like.
Somewhere along the way, it turns out that drugs aren’t at the core of any of this, but terrorists are. Why? I don’t have the slightest idea. The movie is not big on motivation. What it’s big on is having Travolta take on all comers—and if they don’t come to him, he’ll go to them. When all is said and done, this is a movie made up of body-count set pieces. And in this regard, From Paris With Love is amazingly proficient. All right, so it ain’t art, but on occasion the film actually evidences a degree of wit. Tired of seeing Travolta beat, blast and skewer extras various and sundry? Fine. Instead, we’ll hang back in a nice spiral stairwell with his hapless sidekick and watch as the victims plummet earthward like so much overripe fruit.
Otherwise, the film is clearly—almost defiantly—ridiculous to the degree that it makes very little sense. It does, however, offer one potentially valuable life lesson. (I should note, though, that mentioning it might come under the heading of a spoiler—assuming your suspicions aren’t easily aroused—so read on at your own peril.) Just remember, if your girlfriend is altogether too understanding about your propensity to dash off at all hours for extended periods of time and accepts “You know I can’t discuss my work” as an all-purpose excuse, there’s probably a reason for it—and it’s almost certainly not in your favor. Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, drug content, pervasive language and brief sexuality.