Luc Besson’s pulp-fiction assembly line churns out another adequate ass-kicker with Colombiana, which boasts many of the French producer-director’s favorite tropes: revenge motivations, brisk martial arts-tinged violence, young girls wielding firearms, and sexpots defined by both their lethality and borderline anorexia. The deadly vixen in question here is Cataleya (Zoe Saldana), who as a girl in Colombia witnesses her parents’ deaths at the hands of a ruthless crime boss, an atrocity that Transporter 3 helmer Olivier Megaton obscures from the frame, instead choosing to empathetically fixate on the static, tormented face of his protagonist (played as a young girl by Amandla Stenberg) as the sound of the surrounding horrors are drowned out by classical music. This compassionate handling of the tragic incident does much to emotionally ground the rest of the material, which subsequently proceeds down a thoroughly familiar route: Escaping capture and death at the hands of her parents’ killers, Cataleya finds her way to America, where in Chicago she reunites with her uncle, Emilio (Cliff Curtis), who agrees to train her to become a covert angel of death—provided she stays in school, because that’s where intellectual foundations are built.
Fifteen years later, Cataleya is a sleek assassin whose wardrobe consists of latex body suits (for work) and skimpy shorts and tank tops (for pleasure), all of which share a common affinity for tightly hugging her nipples. Cataleya courts trouble by trying to ferret out the whereabouts of her parents’ murderers by offing related baddies and signing their corpses with lipstick drawings of a Cataleya flower. This attracts the attention of the F.B.I. (who are good) and the C.I.A. (who are bad), as well as puts into harm’s way the painter boy-toy (Michael Vartan) who—snore—just wants to get to know the robotically detached, secretive Cataleya.
Using sharp, slightly grungy-textured hues to spice up his action set pieces, Megaton’s direction exhibits the same type of to-the-point efficiency typical of most Besson-produced B movies. The further it chugs along at a moderately engaging pace, the more Colombiana—despite a nicely orchestrated sequence involving a moonlit outdoor shark pool covered in glass—gets sloppy and sketchy, with its script disinterested in key plot details (exactly why were Cataleya’s parents slaughtered?) and infatuated with contrivances and clichés. Still, the alluring Zaldana is such a sultry and surprisingly heartfelt executioner that she often finds a way to make this by-the-numbers genre retread feel, if not fresh, then at least sporadically electric.