Colombiana is the latest action/thriller from French producer Luc Besson. For those unfamiliar, Besson was the director responsible for wonderful action films such as Leon (The Professional) and La Femme Nakita, but has since been known for producing a slew of slick and simple action films such as The Transporter series and Taken. As usual, it seems as if Besson simply had an idea during a meal and wrote it down on a napkin, only to have one of his French protégé’s develop a whole film around it. Colombiana does not win many points for originality, but it does manage to be a serviceable action film with the great presence of Zoe Saldana in the lead role. After serving as strong female characters in films like Avatar and The Losers, Saldana now has the chance to headline an action film of her own and she manages to be the one element that keeps this film’s head above water.
Cataleya: My parents were murdered when I was 9, in front of me.
The film begins with a prologue set in 1992 Colombia. The younger version of Zoe Saldana’s character, Cataleya (played by Amandla Stenberg), witnesses the murder of her parents by Colombian mobsters her father was involved with. The mobsters come after Cataleya as well, but she manages to escape, leading to a well shot parkour chase (evoking another Besson produced film – District B13) through Bogotá. Cataleya eventually manages to escape Colombia completely and find refuge with her uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis) in Chicago. Emilio wishes for Cataleya to be free of her old life, but also understands when she claims to want to learn to become a killer.
Cut to 15 years later, Cataleya now works as a skilled assassin, with a penchant for very elaborate assassination plans and leaving a signature marking on all of her victims. After an introduction to her deadly approach to the job, we are introduced to the FBI Agents tracking her, including Agent Ross (Lennie James), a man who has been tracking this killer for years. We also soon learn of Cataleya’s time off activities, which mainly consist of having one-night stands with her artist friend Danny (Michael Vartan), who is clueless of almost everything about Cataleya, including her real name. Things start to heat up once Cataleya lets her guard down for just a moment, leading to the wrong people learning of her presence, but to Cataleya using the opportunity as a chance to finally have her revenge.
The story is incredibly basic and the film does not bother with trying to make the themes, plot, or periphery characters any deeper than they need to be. It puts together a lot of silly plot stuff together for the sake of making an action movie out of tired ideas. Still, these tired ideas are put to good enough use for the sake of delivering a competently made and well shot action film that has a bit of fun the ideas at play, even if the film sorely lacks a sense of humor. Even if the film has a bit too much padding (hello romantic subplot), I was still pleased enough with some of the skillful direction at play to at least make the stealthy assassin action as well as the big action set pieces worthwhile. [I should also note that the scrip apparently took some ideas from the unproduced screenplay for the never-filmed sequel to Leon: the Professional]
The film was directed by Olivier Megaton (known for directing Transporter 3 and for having one of the coolest names around) and written by Besson and his frequent collaborator Robert Mark Kamen. They apply pretty much what is needed for a fairly low budgeted action film that presents a number of well filmed locations (Chicago, Mexico), some slick action sequences (Cataleya’s apartment escape), and a showcase for Zoe Saldana as a believable action heroine. While small in frame, she manages to make this character her own and brings the required amount of presence and physicality to her performance. She may not be the most complex character, but her development is effective enough and seeing her move through action sequences in her nimble yet effective manner was enough for me to want to stick with her.
Make no mistake, this film is neither high art or as well polished as some of the very good summer action films that have come out over these past months, but the movie does not aspire to be any more than it is either. It manages to stick with its simplicity, which I can admire, while looking pretty cool in the process. There are ridiculous plot developments, supporting actors doing their best with what was given to them, and practically no surprises throughout the film. However, the film does have some fun action beats and an often scantily clad or spandex-wearing Saldana featured prominently and kicking ass frequently. Disposable, sexy fun.
Emilio: Never forget where you came from.