Sexy, slick and rushing by at a swift pace, From Paris with Love is an ode not so much to a foreign city as to good, old-fashioned action flicks with some fresh twists. Paris stars John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as an unlikely terror-fighting duo working undercover for the American government. This odd pairing of actors is inspired, allowing them to step into well-suited roles while bringing new energy to a tired formula.
Meyers plays James Reece, fastidious assistant to the U.S. Ambassador in Paris, living the ex-pat dream with a gorgeous girlfriend (Kasia Smutniak) and secretly ingratiating himself as an entry-level CIA agent. When he gets his first real assignment, then, Reece thinks his career prayers have been answered, as he hastily trades an evening of amour for what he thinks will be his moment to shine. But when he meets Charlie Wax (Travolta), his new cowboy of a partner, Reece’s vision of intrigue and glory quickly recedes in the face of a gun-slinging night that leads the pair deeper into a labyrinthine terror plot.
Tagging along for Wax’s wild ride, Reece is immediately and thoroughly appalled at his partner’s unorthodox methodology. From a surprise shoot-out at dinner to Wax’s insistence that he carry a vase filled with cocaine, our well-groomed assistant’s sensibilities are offended at every turn as he tries to keep up with Wax’s man-hunt (and rising body count). In this 24-hour fiesta of kicking ass, blowing stuff up and running for their lives, both Travolta and Meyers breathe considerable life into their roles, making parts of the movie worth more than their sum.
Bald, bulky and loaded for bear with myriad weapons, Travolta is dynamic and vibrant as the smack-talking Wax, playing the part with his tongue firmly planted in cheek. Meyers, meanwhile, is particularly convincing as the eager but overly earnest embassy hack who’s suddenly thrust onto a scary playing field with the big boys. More importantly, however, he brings an invaluable gravity to the film, applying his introspective, tightly bound approach to many of his characters (see: Match Point, The Tudors) and imbuing Reece with realistic discomfort.
One of the scenes that anchors the film also epitomizes Reece’s struggle during his crash course in the intelligence biz. While he and Wax are running for their lives from a particularly gruesome situation, Reece suddenly stops to consider himself in a mirror. As he turns the faucet on and frantically scrubs blood off his face, his simultaneous self-loathing and subtle character shift are palpable.
It’s also a good thing that Paris has a heavy moment or two to anchor it, because it goes swiftly and inexplicably downhill at its apex, spiraling out of control with clunky dialogue until it crashes with what feels like a hastily tacked-on ending. It’s not exactly a fall from grace, but it is a noticeable change in writing, tone, pace and sanity. Narratively, From Paris with Love doesn’t break much new ground, barring some clever dialogue and one significant swerve in story-telling. But -- apart from its final implosion -- punchy dialogue, tight editing and agile acting make it a fun, action-packed postcard.