Colombiana is disposable trash, and in retrospect that may have seemed obvious, but there was a reason to walk into it with some modest expectations. I’ve enjoyed Luc Besson’s transformation over the last decade from the overrated director of dull and troubled action films such as La Femme Nikita and The Professional into the producer and co-writer of a series of lean and mean sleeper hits. The formula is simple: an easy plot that usually involves a kidnapping, a few picturesque cities for novelty and flavor, and a number of fast, suggestive action scenes that are usually about as well-edited as any sequences in contemporary mainstream action cinema. Taken, a terrific, propulsive film with an unusually strong performance at its center, is the high-water mark of the no-nonsense Besson touch, but even lesser efforts such as the Transporter films and the amusing From Paris with Love have been dependably gratifying for the action fan fed up with the superhero/Pirates of the Caribbean-dominated bloat that typifies the current mainstream action film. Besson, to borrow another writer’s words, has basically established himself as the Val Lewton of the action film, and that’s an unexpected and welcome development.
But Colombiana plays like a studio obligation the producer may have tossed off so as to pave the way for another project that might actually tickle his fancy. Everything about this film is half-baked: The premise, essentially The Professional with a grown-up babe, is unoriginal even when graded on this genre’s bell curve, and the action scenes have little of the snap crackle and pop wit of even a middling Transporter film. Colombiana lamely limps along from one stereotype to the next, muddled by a self-seriousness that recalls the Besson films of yesteryear. The director Olivier Megaton, one of Besson’s stable of go-to craftsman, seems to ludicrously believe that he’s making a real movie about Colombian drug-trafficking and class exploitation.
Colombiana does prove to be oddly instructive in one fashion, as it’s now abundantly clear that a strong on-screen presence is invaluable in transcending the various consciously old-school clichés that an audience must accept in order to enjoy a Besson production. Jason Statham, John Travolta, and especially Liam Neeson have been instrumental in injecting Besson’s films with personality; their rugged and/or defiantly middle-aged charisma acts as a pointed contrast to the pretty and manicured creatures that routinely save the world in American cinemas these days. And while Zoe Saldana certainly makes for a yummy camera object as Colombiana‘s peeved assassin, she simply doesn’t have the presence to sell you on the notion that she could singlehandedly take down three cartels worth of anonymous baddies in a bid to off a villain who may have entirely escaped the audience’s mind by the time the equally forgettable climax arrives. Colombiana is so listless and routine that it barely even capitalizes on Saldana’s looks; the money shots, such as they are, aren’t held long enough, which leaves us stuck with a number of closely cropped shots of decent actors trying their best to enliven bad dialogue. But chin up folks: There’s bound to be another Besson film in the multiplexes in a month or two.
The sound mix dominates here as it does with most action films that primarily concern themselves with car crashes and gunfire. The surround sound is immersive, well synched, and benefits from being turned up to that proverbial 11. The image is ugly, but that seems to be more the fault of the filmmakers than the producers of the DVD. Muddy, somewhat overexposed browns and sharp whites dominate the film's color scheme and these have been accurately preserved with little of the accompanying glare that can plague a film lit in this fashion. A competent transfer.
The "Making of Colombiana" and "Cataleya's Journey" cover essentially the same ground, but the making-of piece includes more footage of the film actually being made, which might be of interest to budding action directors. "Cataleya's Journey," on the other hand, is a collection of self-congratulatory interviews with the cast and crew that will be of interest to no one. Luc Besson is also noticeably absent from both pieces.
Colombiana is a self-righteous misstep from the usually reliable Luc Besson action-film factory.