Most filmgoers probably remember the famous dance scene in Pulp Fiction, when John Travolta, once the arbiter of cool, added to the repertoire of moves that made him a star in Saturday Night Fever nearly two decades earlier. But people tend to forget that Uma Thurman’s index fingers had it right in that movie: Travolta really was a square, a little dim and consumed by panic—about Ving Rhames, about “the Bonnie situation,” about giving Thurman “the shot.” From Paris With Love, the latest (along with this week’s District B13 sequel) from Luc Besson’s prolific Eurotrash action factory, features a callback to Pulp Fiction, but a much different Travolta, vastly more confident and aggressive in his hammy bad-assery. He’s about as cool as his suburban biker character in Wild Hogs.
With his flamboyant ridiculousness, Travolta does, however, give From Paris With Love a pulse, which is more than can be said for the film’s petulant hero, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. By day, Meyers works as the fastidious aide to the U.S. ambassador to France, but he gets his relatively minor kicks doing extracurricular tasks for the CIA, like swapping license plates on cars. Meyers catches his big break when Travolta’s big-shot special agent comes to town and they partner up on a mission to foil a Pakistani terrorist plot. Meyers quickly winds up in over his head, lying to his live-in girlfriend (Kasia Smutniak) and improvising his way through shootouts in the Parisian underworld.
Among the more talented in Besson’s vast stable of technicians, director Pierre Morel (Taken) keeps the usual junky Besson plot (mismatched buddies, vague topical references, hot women who kick ass) moving forward swiftly, and brings the busy goings-on to a close after 90 minutes. And though Travolta has been put on far too loose a chain—an early rant where he tries to force a bag of energy drinks through customs is particularly strained—he helps set a tone of cheery stupidity that makes the film go down easy. (Poor Meyers, the straight man, has to play the wet blanket in this scenario.) As junky and disposable as most Besson productions, From Paris With Love is insomniac viewing, coming soon to a 2 a.m. pay-cable slot near you.