John Travolta sends love from ‘Paris’
BY SEAN O’CONNELL
From Paris, With Love (** out of 4)
James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) holds down a cushy Parisian embassy gig but dreams of scoring an exciting position on the government’s special ops team. Which government? We’re never really sure, and I’m not positive it matters. As part of his audition, James is told he must escort a new partner – loose cannon Charlie Wax (John Travolta) – on a covert mission through Paris’ power corridors and seedy underbellies. Survive the mission, James is told, and he’ll receive that coveted promotion.
Around this time last year, “From Paris, With Love” director Pierre Morel chased Liam Neeson through the French capital as the imposing Irish actor doggedly pursued the thugs who kidnapped his daughter. Lightning doesn’t strike twice as Morel returns to Paris with Travolta in tow, though the chrome-domed A-lister has enough fun with his gonzo performance to fill at least two movies. Travolta relishes the sleaze of his dialogue, plugging into the holier-than-thou lilt that he used on “Pulp Fiction” to help make Quentin Tarantino’s street slang sound so sexy. You have to wonder if Travolta was reminiscing about better days on the “Pulp” set, especially when – in a not so subtle reference – he name drops the infamous “royale with cheese.”
Adi Hasak’s “From Paris” screenplay doesn’t reach QT’s clever levels, however, and could have used at least two more polishes, itself. The vague criminal plot ping-pongs from one motivation to another as we wait (not too long) for the next explosion. Wax and Reece start investigating a cocaine syndicate, shift to a terrorist cell laundering stolen money, and end up exposing an undercover suicide bomber as they race to prevent an attack on visiting U.S. dignitaries. It’s hard to keep score when the movie insists on changing the game plan every couple of scenes. By the end of “From Paris,” we assume we’re witnessing the birth of Hollywood’s newest good cop-bad cop partnership. I can’t say I’m in “Love” with that idea.
Dear John (**1/2 out of 4)
Film adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels have a template, and by golly, Lasse Hallstrom’s “Dear John” follows it to the letter.
John (Channing Tatum) and Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) fall in love during one blissful summer, but put their romance on the shelf once he – a member of the Army’s Special Forces unit – is required to finish his tour of duty overseas. Near the end of John’s stint, however, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 occur, forcing the soldier to choose between fighting alongside is military colleagues or returning to the love of his life.
War might be hell, but it’s not nearly as painful as unrequited love. The first half of “Dear John” bogs down in the sappy archetypes we anticipate with Sparks’ writings. First kisses are shared in torrential rainstorms. Life-altering diseases like autism and cancer are used as plot devices. But the performances grow as the story matures, and Hallstrom eventually pilots “Dear John” to a satisfying – if predictable – denouement.