'Colombiana' Kicks Butt
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
"Revenge is beautiful" is the tagline on the posters for this movie, and as is all too customary with stories that start by trying to put this sort of line over, revenge is also filled with emotional complications and repercussions and loneliness and emptiness and all those sorts of things. The good news for those of us who every now and then like to see a movie that lies to us about the consequences of pursuing payback for our grudges, "Colombiana" not only goes pretty easy on the inevitable moralizing, it also kinda sorta takes it back. It makes revenge not only beautiful in the form of its slinky assassin protagonist, played by Zoe Saldana (who's coming off the most successful movie ever made, that Avatar thing, in which she was blue; here she's allowed to maintain her natural caramel skin tones, and they look good), but also kind of ... well, to use any of the adjectives would be to give away the punch line. But trust me, it's a good one.
Directed by the master of bombast with a pronounced French accent, Olivier Megaton ("Transporter 3"), "Colombiana" begins, aptly enough, in Colombia, as the parents of sweet little girl Cataleya are killed before her wide eyes by drug cartel biggies. Despite her mute witness of these events, we soon learn the school-uniform-clad girl's no pushover, as she makes her escape in a chase scene that's equal parts parkour and shoot-em-up. It's like "The Bourne Ultimatum" meets "Dora the Explorer." And it maintains its cheeky action ridiculousness from there. When the grown-up Cataleya makes her entrance, she's drunk off her butt, but the viewer knows, somehow, that it's, like, not really -- of course she's faking being drunk to get into the lockup next to a maximum security prisoner whom she's Marked For Death. And she dispatches him with much cleverness and ultimate efficiency. And she leaves her trademark, a lipstick drawing of the rare orchid she's named for, on the bad guy's chest.
As is to be expected from producer/co-writer Luc Besson, the man behind the original "La Femme Nikita" and "The Professional," the film fairly luxuriates in adolescent tumescence over Saldana's deadly post-waif character, encasing her in pulp-poetic images to render her an angel of death most heterosexual males in the audience would be happy to surrender to. (The sight of her crawling along the top of a white-lit, glass-sealed, shark-filled swimming pool is particularly affecting.)
While the plot mechanics -- involving an artist boyfriend (Michael Vartan) Cataleya would seem to prefer to put to mere carnal use despite his emotional probing, and a good cop (Lennie James) who first seeks to nab, and then tries to help, Cataleya -- are pretty much just as stock as those characters make them sound, it matters very little. (Aside from the drug lords, the sorta bad guys turn out to be the CIA, but the circumstances of this are so thoroughly vague that the movie can't be said to be trying to score anything like a political point.) Because the action set pieces are all meticulously laid out and, for the most part, delightfully executed, all the way up to the punch line that I'm being careful not to spill.
And Saldana makes it work. Her energy pretty much electrifies the screen, as they say. All killers should look this good doing their dirty work. It'd be a better world.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.