Zoe Saldana as Cataleya Restrepo
Cliff Curtis as Emilio Restrepo
Jordi Mollà as Marco
Lennie James as Special Agent Williams
Michael Vartan as Danny Delanay
Callum Blue as Richard
Max Martini as Special Agent Williams
Don Luis (Beto Benites)
Sam Douglas as William Woodward
Amandla Stenberg as Young Cataleya Restrepo
As long as studios can count on just enough young men to go see relatively cheap action movies we can count Luc Besson and his various protégés to keep making them, which is rapidly becoming a depressing example of the fall of a formerly great talent.
Besson, who has repositioned himself from director to the guiding mind of EuropaCorp Films, has retained enough control over his films as writer and producer that the directors have begun to amount to interchangeable cogs, continually producing the same stale rehashed tripe. See then if you can name the movie this plot goes to: a young girl's family is killed, filled with rage and determination, she sets out to get revenge on all those who have done her wrong regardless of the cost.
If it sounds familiar, it's because Besson has been to that well more than once or twice, which pretty much sums up "Colombiana." If you've seen any of the Besson-produced action movies of the last decade, you've seen this one.
The girl who's been wronged this time is Cataleya (Zoe Saldana), daughter of a Columbian drug lord. When he and the rest of her family are killed by his partner (Beto Benites), she escapes to the US and grows up in the care of her uncle (Cliff Curtis) with one goal in mind - to become a professional assassin and use her skills to claim her revenge.
When Besson was actually making these things himself, he managed to overcome some of the limitations of the genre by focusing as much on his fallen angel protagonist's personal life as the action adventure portion, actually making an effort to show how the violence of one affected the other. As he has transitioned to a factory-like producer, the films associated with him have become pale imitations of that initially original take. It's been replaced with sparse, pointless 'character' moments which are supposed to make us empathize with the characters and have a stake in the action but instead just slow things down and make us wonder what the point was.
In "Colombiana" that takes the shape of Cataleya's paramour Danny (Michael Vartan), an artist whose apartment she just shows up at from time to time and refuses to tell anything about herself to. Danny's uselessness is compounded by the fact that his screen time takes time away from Uncle Emilio (Curtis) with whom Cataleya has a much more developed relationship.
None of that really matters though. The point of "Colombiana" is to watch Saldana beat up and kill various hapless adversaries through a mixture of cunning and high order violence. The movie could have been called "Girls with Guns" and it would have been more accurate.
And if that's all that you're after, "Colombiana" delivers in style. Director Olivier Megaton ("Transporter 3") has gotten some of the kinks that got in his way and delivered polished action scenes the equal of anything his mentor came up with. In particular Cataleya's planned assassinations and the way she executes them are almost worth the price of admission.
Cataleya has been supplementing her quest for vengeance by working as a professional assassin--apparently only against targets that really deserve it though, never the innocent--leaving behind a single orchid, the Cataleya she is named for, as her calling card in order to draw out her ultimate target. It's not particularly smart, and at the very least "Colombiana" recognizes that and spends most of the last half expounding on the corner her rage has been painting her into.
Saldana herself is perfectly cast in the part, easily believable in Cataleya's tender moments and as a killer. And Curtis is excellent as Emilio; he is meant to be the soul of the film and he is more than up to the task. The rest of the cast, be it Vartan or the FBI Agent (Lennie James) following Cataleya's trail of corpses might as well be interchangeable.
That's not really their fault though. It mainly comes down to the screenplay which is lazy, heartless and stupid while trying to pretend to be the opposite. On top of the complete lack of connection it is able to build with its characters, Megaton's over-the-top style can't quite be overcome. Suspension of disbelief always has to be elastic in these sorts of things but considering the pains that are gone to make the killings seem believable, the lack of notice of the same in the rest of the film is a glaring oversight. The worst being a scene early on when Emilio, trying to make a point to young Cataleya, shoots up the street in front of her school, possibly killing the driver of a passing car, with his face uncovered and in full view of everyone in the street. He then proceeds to stand there, gun in hand, and talk to her in what is supposed to be a dramatic moment while police roll up and bystanders point, and then just walks away. It represents a complete lack of understanding of tone that often thwarted Megaton's "Transporter" film and does the same here. No other moment is quite as bad as that in "Colombiana" but it doesn't exactly rest alone either. Together they make it impossible to take seriously a movie that doesn’t work if you don't take it seriously.
There have been a few successes in the last few years following Besson's formula of stale dialogue, light character and strong action. But there have been far more misses than hits. "Colombiana" doesn't even stand out among those; it's just the latest.