The latest bag of pork rinds from producer Luc Besson, a leading purveyor of high-calorie/low-nutrition entertainment, Colombiana opens with a little girl witnessing her parents’ murder in Colombia, moving to America, and coming back to take revenge as an adult. Basically, it’s Robert De Niro’s subplot in The Godfather Part II, fused with the slick assassination games of Besson’s breakthrough film, La Femme Nikita. Coppola initially turned down The Godfather for fear it would glorify gangsterism; it was only after he found a metaphor for capitalism, and more richly, a vehicle through which to tell a story about family, that he had the rationale to do it. In lifting the Godfather II plotline for its own dubious ends, Colombiana goes about its business in precisely the opposite way: It uses a story about family as a vehicle for glorifying gangsterism. In other words, it’s empty, amoral, and—in the style of other Besson productions—surprisingly easy to digest.
After an exciting prologue that has her preteen self nimbly skirting through the slums of Bogotá—shades of Besson’s parkour hit, District B13—Avatar’s Zoe Saldana emerges 15 years later as a slinky assassin intent on vengeance. Trained in the deadly arts by a relative (veteran character actor Cliff Curtis, inexplicably projecting Al Pacino in Scarface), Saldana is first seen getting arrested and thrown in jail as part of a truly, irresistibly ridiculous plot to kill someone from the inside. With 22 hits under her belt—all of them scumbags who deserved it, of course—she draws the attention of the FBI, but remains an elusive target. But her duties as a professional assassin are really a roundabout way of returning to Columbia to take out the brandy-snifter-sipping crime boss who murdered her parents.
Director Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3) makes Colombiana in the Besson house style: Thinly textured and technically proficient, with a cartoonishness that takes it out of the real world. In a typically insane early scene, Curtis shows the schoolgirl-aged heroine what being a killer is like by opening fire on a random streetcar in broad daylight and casually walking away as if nothing happened. Yet Saldana’s occupation makes little sense in the story other than to log time before she gets her revenge, so the film mostly just spins its wheels, tacking on a stultifying romantic subplot with Michael Vartan as a crude means of showing that she’s human. We know she’s human. It’s the movie that’s a machine.