L'espionnage, Je t'aime

That Pierre Morel movie with John Travolta looking ridiculous in a completely shaved head? Pretty damn good, actually.

"Tell me we’re not a perfect match,” John Travolta’s outrageously cartoonish Charlie Wax, biker-boy secre agent, guffs to Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ James Reece, prim and wonky James Bond wannabe, at some improbable point in the ludicrously entertaining From Paris with Love. It would have to be an improbable moment, because the movie is built from bricks of Ridiculous mortared together with the Preposterous and painted over with the Highly Unlikely. Days after seeing the film, I cannot possibly tell you how it all hangs together, because I’m not sure that it does. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a blast while watching it.

They are a perfect match — which is the damnedest, most wonderful thing. Travolta’s been annoying, mostly, of late (Wild Hogs? seriously?) and Meyers has mostly been Indie Boy. (His turn as King Henry VIII on Showtime’s series The Tudors is probably how mainstream audiences will recognize him, but even that’s a stretch, considering the select viewers that for-pay cable series garner.) It’s either sheer genius or dumb luck that prompted director Pierre Morel (Taken) to pair them up as odd-couple spies: the grungy, badass veteran and the stuffy, stylish newbie. Who’da thunk they’d spark with such chemistry? From Paris With Love may look, on the surface, like a lot of the same-old, same-old — and honestly, it is — but part of what makes it feel so fresh is that Travolta and Meyers seem to be inventing something new as they go along.

Want more fresh angles on the action buddy comedy? You got it. Screenwriters Luc Besson (you know him as the writer-director of the Transporter movies, The Professional and The Fifth Element) and Adi Hasak whip up a lot that’s sorta breezy. Take, for example, Reece’s girlfriend Caroline (Kasia Smutniak), whom you would think wouldn’t be in on the fact that his job at the American embassy is just a cover for his trying-to-break-into-CIA work. (Man, does he want into the inner sanctum of cool 007 shit!) But she is. And she’s fi ne with it. Their relationship takes an unexpected turn just before Reece goes off on his dangerous mission with Charlie Wax. In a genre that’s so dependent on tradition — even when it thinks it’s being dangerous and unbound — this is an intriguing twist.

And Paris keeps on surprising you. The plot is, frankly, a convoluted mess about Chinese coke dealers and Pakistani terrorists skulking around Paris and getting up to a whole buncha no good. I didn’t have any trouble keeping up with things while I was in the thick of it — it’s all a breathlessly exciting, surprisingly funny, nonstop 90 minutes of audacious twists, excessive violence, sexy car chases, andjust plain cinematic tomfoolery. (In the clear light of day, I don’t see where the connections are between the drug dealers and the suicide bombers. But that doesn’t matter.) What’s cool is the effortless multiculturalism of the fi lm — Paris is a living, breathing world city here, and not just in its wide variety of bad guys. It’s nothing like the picture-postcard image that’s usually thrust on us.

And it’s cool, too, how Morel and Besson and Hasak balance, in satisfying fashion, a story that is timely and pertinent — the faith it takes to fuel suicide bombers and romantic love are key to the plot — while also managing to stay refreshingly apolitical about it all. And the humor doesn’t come from culture snarking — the few jokes about France aren’t at the expense of the French. (Could it be that they actually do some things better than Americans?!) Instead, the humor comes from the interplay between our two heroes. If this is the birth of a new franchise, hooray: It’s pure movie joy to revel in the electricity between Travolta and Meyers, and I’d love to see more. From Paris With Love embraces the all the nonsense and cheap thrills with fullthroated abandon.

Hollywood of the North: North Idaho and the Film Industry @ Museum of North Idaho

Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Oct. 30
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Maryann Johanson

Maryann Johanson