Director Pierre Morel had a real opportunity to do something fascinating after the almost universal appeal of his last cinematic endeavour, Taken. Not bothering too much in that film with a somewhat predictable plot, he just took one character and threw tons at him. Will that work again? What if it was two lead characters instead of one? And what if you add the force of the reputable Luc Besson behind it? Surely that just increases the rawness? Unfortunately, losing its simplicity complicates everything and Morel loses the je ne sais quoi that gave him his shine before.
Fusing Hollywood energy with the French nouveau thriller has been a formula growing in popularity recently, with its success being about 50/50 hit or miss. This time the plot is an American embassy agent in Paris, James Reese (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), who does some mediocre spy work but yearns for the big leagues of field tactical espionage. He gets his shot when the agency he works for lets him provide field support for their best, yet wholly erratic, agent – Charlie Wax (John Travolta). The pair bounce off of each other to do the best they can to get to the bottom of a cocaine ring that goes deeper than it seems, but not without potentially ruining Reese’s relationship with Caroline (Kasia Smutniak), who just proposed. The story juggles awkwardly between crime-fighting comedy and government thriller, with hitting high notes in each genre, but not maintaining enough consistency in the short playing-time to accumulate effect.
Rhys-Meyers holds himself back in many of the scenes. Sadly his acting and even the story are severely disrupted by the god-awful American accent he attempts. To his credit, it never breaks, but there’s no reason his character couldn’t have just been British. Travolta as Wax is a lot of fun, and you can see why he took on the role. He gets to have all the so-corny-it’s-good lines as well as do the bad-ass action sequences. He lacks profundity, but doesn’t need it. Though there is little screen time with Smutniak she fulfils her quota of damsel, frustrated girlfriend and sexy temptress.
Though the confusing title may lead one to think that there is romance in this story, and that is where at least 70% of the cheesiness comes from, this movie achieves the most from is action sequences. Good set pieces in a variety of interesting locations, that are unfortunately mainly in first half of the film, makes you wonder what held them back from going all out for a bigger finish.
The plot starts off mediocre and doesn’t really rise from there, it sets up some good potential but annoyingly does nothing with it, and just lays on the inauthenticity as the story goes on. Rhys-Meyers and Travolta have genuine chemistry together that comes across even through the short edited scenes. There is more back and forth irregularity in the film making with this flick. For every bit of well formulated tension, there’s equally rough dialogue spewing out of actors who don’t believe it any more than we the audience do. There’s the distinct feeling that Besson wrote the original treatment that got butchered for budget and he attempted little to salvage it. He should be embarrassed to have his name on the poster.
The overall mismatch and lack of motif or pattern leaves the final, international production critically under-performing and missing basic harmony to make it last more than a few minutes in your mind after you leave the cinema.