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Colombiana

August 28, 2011
Colombiana

If you’ve watched enough Luc Besson movies before — especially ones written with Robert Mark Kamen — you pretty much know what you’re going to get: a girl with a tragic past grows up to be an ultra-capable, ultra-lethal woman. We’ve seen it in various forms in Nikita, in Léon, in The Fifth Element, and now we see it in Colombiana.

In Bogota, Colombia, back in 1982, business went bad between Don Luis (Beto Benites) and one of his hit-men, Fabio (Jesse Borrego). Seeing which way the wind was blowing, Fabio gave a microdisk to his daughter, Cataleya (Amandla Stenberg), as her “passport” along with the Chicago address of his brother Emilio (Cliff Curtis). When Don Luis’ right-hand man, Marco (Jordi Mollà), shows up, he murders Cataleya’s parents and demands she turn over the disk. But even at nine years old, Cataleya is far from incapable; she makes an escape all the way to the American embassy, and from there to safety in America.

But of course it’s not over; Cataleya wants revenge. Fifteen years later — and now played by Zoe Saldana — she is a catlike hit-woman in the employ of her uncle. Unbeknownst to him, she’s started signing her kills with a drawing of the orchid for which she was named, in the hopes that this would send a message to Don Luis and draw him out. But to date it’s only raised the attention of FBI Special Agent Ross (Lennie James), who’s searching for this mystery “tag killer”.

Director Olivier Megaton — yes, he expects us to take that seriously — continues his history of aping Besson’s style, especially when writing from Besson’s scripts. And there’s really little here that we haven’t seen before in other Besson-Kamen films. It’s hard to tell if it’s really better or worse, though; maybe if Colombiana had come first, we’d find Nikita derivative. As is, there’s plenty of action and plenty of angst; there are guns and explosions and a carefully-timed acrobatic sequence. But while it’s sexy and cool, it’s not exactly the smartest movie. Or at least it’s not as smart as it wants us to think it is.

Outside of individual scenes, there’s not really any suspense or mystery. Especially if we’ve seen Besson’s writing before, we know pretty much how things are going to play out. There is a plot and there are characters — putting it ahead of purely eye-candy action blockbusters — but they mostly exist to string between one action sequence and the next. But when the connecting thread is as tenuous as a genus of orchid that grows far beyond the claimed limited area, it stretches credulity, not to mention the idea that any genus or species of orchid could be identified from a roughly sketched outline in the first place. And if they’re including “cattleya” — the proper spelling — as an oblique Proustian reference, well, even the geekiest of lit-geeks must admit that that’s stretching it a bit far.

I must admit, though, that Saldana treads this ground very well. It may be familiar to us in general, but this is the first time seeing her given this sort of scenery to chew. Curtis and James are also excellent support, though I could have done without the awkward romantic subplot with Michael Vartan. Surely Besson and Kamen could have found another way to provide the only key plot point that depends on it.

So if you know Besson-Kamen action girl films and you know you like them, this is exactly what you’re expecting; no more, no less. I give them credit for not making these a series like they did with the Transporter franchise, but that doesn’t make them any more original or interesting.

Worth It: if you want more of Nikita and Léon, yes. Otherwise, no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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