In the space of just a few weeks, we have movies starring Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson and John Travolta. It’s like the early ’90s all over again.
Nostalgia is on Travolta’s mind, too. In “From Paris with Love,” he plays a violent but chatty CIA agent who, while bullets fly, likes to engage in dialogue that recalls “Pulp Fiction” as if written by action film hacks.
Alongside Travolta’s Charlie Wax, Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays James Reese, an aide to the U.S. ambassador of France (Richard Durden).
But Reese is also a low-level secret agent for the CIA. He aspires to higher levels of intrigue and gets his shot when he’s teamed with the veteran Wax.
The two embark on a manic rampage of destruction, racking up double-digit bodies within minutes, in a desperate race to prevent terrorists from blowing up ungrateful politicians.
The not-so-subtle suggestion is that those who underestimate the terrorist threat or worry too much about protocol risk big trouble.
The ceiling for a movie like this is, at best, Guy Ritchie or John Woo territory — which is to say, quite low indeed. But the biggest thing standing in the way of “From Paris with Love” achieving even that standard is the laughable casting.
The Irish actor Rhys Meyers (“The Tudors,” “Match Point”) likely has some fans somewhere, but his pasty, hollow-cheeked look has always seemed more model than actor. Even his defenders would acknowledge he’s not quite action movie material.
That needn’t be an impediment; the fish-out-water is a standby of many a thriller. But in “From Paris With Love,” his character, though inexperienced, quickly adapts to the carnage. (He does blink for one pseudo-poetic moment of reflection in front of a mirror.)
Having more fun is Travolta. With a shaved head, a thick goatee, an earring and a leather coat with an upturned collar draped by a scarf, he resembles a biker from Soho.
He throws himself fully into the film, but it never feels like anything more than action movie dress-up.