When a horror film or an action thriller boasts an overly familiar premise, there are still certain names out there which will usually guarantee my presence in the theatre all the same. One such name, of course, is Guillermo del Toro. And if you know me at all, you probably know that another such name is Luc Besson (though not even I ever bothered with the Jimmy Fallon TAXI remake, okay?). And, just like del Toro, Besson served as writer/producer but not director on the latest film to bear his name. “Olivier Megaton” (Fontana) of TRANSPORTER 3 is back at the helm for COLOMBIANA—and despite the pure formula nature of this new film, it’s a distinct improvement over his previous offering (it’s also superior to the non-Megaton Besson vehicle FROM PARIS WITH LOVE).
A Besson film promises zestful, internationally-flavored action even as it dares you to take it seriously. While the flavor this time around is predominantly Latin (the title says it all—it’s not the name of any character in the film), fans of NIKITA, LEON and the DISTRICT B-13 adventures will have no trouble recognizing the various source materials.
The basics: Ten-year-old Cataleya (Amandla Stenberg) sees her parents murdered before her eyes over a MacGuffin computer chip needed by crimelord Don Luis (Beto Benites). Unfortunately for the Don’s hit squad (led by Jordi Molla as Marco), the youngster has both killer survival instincts and mad parkour skills!
Time out: The generous opening movement of the film gives young Stenberg plenty of screen time, and she’s legitimately excellent—I was willing to spend the entire film with her!
After a graphic gross-out gag (retrieving the evidence), Cataleya (named for a special orchid found only in Colombia) escapes to America and the (unauthorized) custody of her uncle, to whom she makes no bones: “I want to be a killer. Can you help me?” “Uh… sure!” Cataleya grows up to be an untouchable, unmatchable hitwoman (and Zoe Saldana, of course) and the quest for vengeance begins in earnest.
The various setpieces are often simultaneously impressive (the Rube Goldberg precision of Cataleya’s machinations) and outrageously obvious (gee, THIS bad guy has a pair of SHARKS under a transparent acrylic floor—I wonder what’s gonna happen to him?!), and it takes a combination of wild coincidence and unfortunate emotional complications (yep, she gets a boyfriend to whom she can tell nothing about herself) to force the story to its predestined conclusion. But you wouldn’t have it any other way because the Besson formula is firing full-blast, the performers play it like they sincerely believe it, and best of all, Megaton allows you to take in far more than he’s compelled to speed over (there’s only one obnoxiously-fragmented fight sequence near the end of the film), which is why I put it well ahead of the third TRANSPORTER movie.
Now let me just say this. DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK came to theatres with an R rating. I’m told that director Troy Nixey has no problem with the rating, which was apparently assigned due to the element of child endangerment. Okay… I saw COLOMBIANA immediately after I saw DARK. And as I mentioned, the first twenty minutes or so of the movie focus on an armed hit squad pursuing a ten-year-old girl with the full intent of killing her just like they killed her parents in front of her. COLOMBIANA easily tops DARK in bloody violence (and these are people killing people, not fantastic monsters), strong language (DARK has none) and rampant sexuality (including several brief flashes of nudity to go along with Saldana’s constantly revealing outfits—you guessed it, DARK scores an absolute zero in that department as well). Nor does COLOMBIANA have any redeeming moral code (it’s pure eye-for-an-eye, of course) to make the concept more palatable for family viewing. Now, please don’t mistake this for a complaint against the movie itself—it does exactly what it’s supposed to do with no apologies. But how in the holy HELL does it rate a PG-13 against DARK’s R? The mind boggles… but I know which movie I’d take my twelve-year-old son to see first!
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