John Travolta shows up with a shaved head and wild eyes in From Paris With Love, a mediocre film that, nevertheless, has some great moments—because Travolta, when in top form, can be a lot of fun.
He co-stars as Charlie Wax, a one-man wrecking machine sent to Paris to help alleviate a situation through the mass elimination of various bad guys. He's partnered up with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who plays a diplomat moonlighting as a special agent, or something like that. Now that I think about it, Rhys Meyers' role makes little sense.
The two go on an assault spree that has you thinking the film might be about taking down drug lords, but the plot eventually leads to something much bigger—and painfully unnecessary. Director Pierre Morel infuses his film with occasional surprises and serviceable action sequences, but he can't save things from going belly-up, because the script frays in the end like a piece of string cheese in the hands of a ravenous 2-year-old.
Don't blame Travolta, who creates one of his better roles in years (with the help of some major CGI and stunt doubles). He delivers a performance that is, in some ways, completely wrong for the rest of picture: He seems to be the only one in on the joke. From Paris With Love could've been a balls-out-funny, ultra-violent action picture, but it tries to be some sort of weird morality play in the end.
Rhys Meyers acts with a strange, nasal American accent as he half-commits to a wimpy sidekick caricature; his character is also a hopeless and serious romantic with focused career goals and little humor. There's some business involving his girlfriend that eventually contributes to the film's derailment. It's like Rhys Meyers thinks he's in a Jason Bourne flick, while Travolta believes he's in something more akin to 48 Hrs. or Beverly Hills Cop. Because both performers are equally committed to their interpretations, the film winds up being discordant and messy.
It's the Travolta portion that works best. He's a fast-talking assassin who is at once funny and totally scary. Travolta has done some poor work in his time, but when he's on, he's pretty damn good. There's a dinner scene in this film during which he's required to go from funny guy to serious badass on a hairpin turn, and he does it with gusto. Too bad whiny Rhys Meyers pipes in and ruins the party.
What the movie lacks is a partner for Travolta who can bring the funny while handling the complex stuff. Somebody like Robert Downey Jr. or Matt Damon kicking ass and cracking wise with Travolta would've made this an effective mega-blockbuster, rather than the inconsistent curio it winds up being. (Although producers probably couldn't have gotten Downey or Damon to play second-fiddle to Travolta—or participate in this movie's terrible finale.)
I wouldn't mind another Charlie Wax movie from Travolta; he just needs a better partner and a script more committed to his character's tone. You'd also have to get him a bigger trailer and another airplane for his collection. The man is notoriously demanding.
This is a Luc Besson-produced flick, and Morel is also an accomplished cinematographer, so the movie looks and sounds great. It has one of the more memorable and exciting car chases in recent memory, thrilling gunfights and impressively choreographed hand-to-hand combat scenes.
What it doesn't have are enough solid jokes and a true sense of purpose. From Paris With Love is too funny to be taken seriously, and too serious to be officially deemed funny. It's totally schizoid.