Movie Review: Colombiana

Luc Besson sequels the Professional by making Kill Bill.

OK, I was sold on this movie by the trailer.  I guess I am a sucker for slick media campaigns (by the way, have you seen the new Slim Jim commercials?  I have been eating those things by the bushel).  As I gain experience in the movie review world I am learning to watch out for certain things, and movies that are released in late August generally seem to be the wimpy kids that are picked last for softball in grade school (something I know a good amount about).  Was this movie bad?  Not especially.  Was it good?  Not especially.  It had some good elements, but overall seemed a little confused and disjointed.  I think “meh” best describes it.

After seeing the movie last night I was kind of perplexed as to the origin and did a little research.  Apparently this was supposed to be the sequel to the Professional and Luc wrote it with adult Natalie Portman in mind.  After she passed he rewrote it with a South American back story stapled to the front end and ran with it.  It did star another unrequited love of my life, Zoe Saldana, which was a big plus (I fell in love with her as a big blue alien in Avatar.  Yes, I am one of those guys).

What is the real problem with this film?  Well, it has several, including the fact that Luc Besson was “inspired” by about 2o different movies, but the real issue with this film can be summed up in one rating: PG-13.  This movie really should have gone hard core for an R rating, and not just so I could see some gratuitous nudity on the screen.  The combat seemed tame and disconnected, which aggravated the incredulity the audience has to constantly fight when watching a 90 pound girl beat the hell out of dozens of fully grown and extremely well armed men (sorry, ladies.  I am sure there are any number of martial arts trained women out there who could beat the hell out of me.  I just have a hard time believing Zoe Saldana has the upper body strength to pull herself out of a wrestling hold with a dude.  Hate me if you have to).  I’m not saying I can’t suspend my disbelief enough to make it work.  I’m just saying in order for me to believe it I actually need to see the violence and gore in a realistic, R rated manner.  Also, a little gratuitous nudity would not have hurt.

By the way, I thought at first Colombiana was the female form of Colombian in Spanish, but a little research shows that it is actually a term for black people living in Colombia.  Not the most racially sensitive term I have heard used for a movie title, and I am reasonably sure a little research might show it is kind of derogatory.  Not that Luc Besson is known for being PC.

Anyway, the movie.  A young Colombian girl (Amandla Stenberg) has her parents killed in some kind of drug deal gone bad.  She has some kind of data chip (this is 1992.  Were they making mini disks the size of dimes back then?) her father gave her that has details of the bad guy’s never defined business.  We see yet ANOTHER parkour chase scene through a South American hillside city slum (it really, really, really looks like Rio de Janeiro, in spite of the fact that is is supposed to be in Colombia) where an eight year old girl managed to give about 20 armed men the slip and also has the strength to lift a manhole cover from the inside (I know this is petty, but I am going to give them a black hole for this.  I happen to know from personal experience that manhole covers start at 300 pounds and go up from there, and are really hard for a grown man to lift from the inside (please don’t ask me how I know this).  This little girl lifts one like it was made of Styrofoam (it probably was).  Can movie makers not respect their audience on any level, please?).  Anyway, she uses the disk to get a ticket to American from the CIA, where she gives her handler the slip and travels to Chicago to hook up with her uncle, who in a blatant example of bad parenting decisions agrees to train her as an assassin.  Skip forward 15 years and she is now a professional killer who uses her sex appeal, appearance, and lithe form to get into places others can’t.  She is on a personal revenge kick after the Don who killed her parents, but does contract jobs for her uncle (he is also some kind of ill defined crime lord.  How do these people make money, besides from murder for hire?).  Somehow he is cool with her killing for money from all of his clients but freaks out when he finds out she is killing the people who killed her family (see what I mean about disjointed).

Anyway, a bunch of minor characters and sub plots, including an FBI investigation and some kind of CIA cover up, are introduced and go nowhere.  Soft core explosive hijinks ensues.  Henchmen die in droves.  The part time love interest manages to completely screw up the girl’s life and more or less is forgiven in spite of directly causing the deaths of pretty much all of her friends and relatives.  Other movies are blatantly plagiarized.  More stuff blows up.  The end.

The stars.  Zoe Saldana, and while it was a PG-13 the director (Olivier Megaton???  No joke, he took this name because he was born on the 20th anniversary of atomic bombing of Hiroshima.  What an a-hole.  I wonder if he knows Megatron.  Rising Sun image courtesy of the political t shirts category) took every single opportunity to show as much kid safe skin as possible.  A scene doesn’t go by without Zoe running around in panties and bra, or skin tight body suit.  Let’s just say wherever they were shooting this flick must have been cold.  One star.  One thing Luc Besson can do is write action scenes, even if they are really derivative of a bunch of other movies and a little hard to believe.  One star.  Revenge movie.  One star.  Somewhat exciting.  One star.  Lots of guns and explosives.  One star.  The opening hit, where she has to sneak into the Bakersfield police station (I’ve been to Bakersfield many times, and the police there are far less incompetent than this film makes them out to be.  They also have a reputation in the Central Valley as being quick on the trigger, so take it from me, don’t mess with them) is actually really cool in a sneaky crime sort of way.  One star.  Filming was reasonably competent, and the running chase scene from early on (as lame is it was from a logical point of view) was well executed.  One star.  Total: seven stars.

Now the black holes.  PG-13 when it should have been R.  One black hole.  Acting start to finish was flat and uninspired.  One black hole.  Little girl lifting manhole cover.  One black hole.  Subplots and minor characters that add nothing and go nowhere.  One black hole.  A really dumb scene where the little girl’s uncle pulls a gun out and shoots up a passing random car on a busy street in order to make a point to the girl, then sits there for about half an hour lecturing her before walking away with no consequences whatsoever (pretty much a rip off of the scene of Natalie Portman shooting out the window in the Professional, although I can’t call it plagiarism as Luc Besson wrote that too.  I guess he really likes his own writing).  One black hole.  Every time they added a scene where they tried to inject some kind of emotion it was awkward and too brief and simplistic.  Basically brought whatever momentum the movie had a that point to a crashing halt.  One black hole.  For someone who has worked for 15 years to kill a specific man, the girl kind of left his final death in the hands of fate.  No real backup plan for any of her hijinks, but I guess that is typical Luc Besson.  One black hole.  While the gun fight scenes were pretty well shot and reasonably coherent, the one really big melee fight scene devolved into a million 1-1.5 second edits.  I hate that fight scene style.  Gives me a headache and no idea of who is doing what to whom.  It pretty much says either the fight coordinator sucked (or didn’t exist) or the actors involved lacked the basic martial arts skills to reasonably execute more than one punch or kick in a row.  One black hole.  Story was overly complicated in a dumb way.  A complicated story is good if the complications enhance the story and add depth.  This was just complicated for complications sake, and really dragged down the story.  One black hole.  Total: eight black holes.

In the irksome category, I have some issues with the father.  If you are going to confront your crime boss and you think there is a reasonable chance he will want to kill you and your whole family, would you not take the precaution of maybe having your wife and daughter somewhere other than where the bad guy knows they are?  I’m just saying.  If you are planning on leaving the country anyway (this was implied) and are about to have it out with the big man, maybe have your daughter and wife on a flight that leaves an hour before your meeting.  Also, if time is a factor maybe tell your daughter how much you love her and give her the family medallion in the car while you are bugging the hell out of town, not while the bad guys are incoming.  You know, just thinking out loud here.  Also, they painted every American law enforcement person as kind of cowardly when confronted with a hot chick who threatens their family and life.  It must be a French thing (Megat(r)on is French too) to try to constantly show Americans as incompetent, corrupt, and cowardly.  Seems I can remember a certain European country surrendering pretty damn quick during a big war a few decades ago.  Also, didn’t you get your butts kicked by Mexico on the 5th of May?  I’m just saying.

I really didn’t want to see this movie end up in the black hole region, but try as I might I couldn’t find another star to give them.  Even a couple of the ones I gave them smacked of pity stars.  I like Zoe Saldana a lot and want to see her succeed, and feel gratitude for Luc Besson for the Professional (Taken  wasn’t bad, either) and would like to see him do well, but I can’t really find another good thing about this movie.  It’s not really bad, and you can get some excitement from it.  Some of the action sequences are pretty good, although the best scenes are of Zoe sneaking around Splinter Cell style.  It just doesn’t coalesce into a really good film.  See it if you are really into Zoe and/or Luc Besson, but maybe wait until NetFlix.

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