Judge Gordon Sullivan smells the potential for an international tourism franchise—Italiana, Peruviana, Canadiana.
Our review of Colombiana, published December 26th, 2011, is also available.
Revenge is beautiful.
Luc Besson has fashioned a bit of a factory for himself. Though he rarely seems to step behind the camera these days, he doesn't let his ideas go to waste, whether he's co-writing scripts or merely providing stories to other writers. The only problem with this output is that it gets to be a little too consistent. For the last several decades, Besson has been obsessed with the ethics and methods of assissins as well as what it means to get revenge. These are pretty deep themes, and when you throw in the usual gender twist that Besson loves you've got a recipe for some solid filmmaking. However, by the time the second decade of the 21st century rolls around, his stories are starting to have a been-there-done-that feel. Colombiana would be a great film, if it were the first from Besson and collaborator Olivier Megaton, but giving a skinny girl a motive for revenge and lots of firepower just doesn't impress audiences like it used to.
Facts of the Case
Cataley (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek) saw her parents killed when she was young. Now she's all grown up and wants revenge on the drug lords responsible for their murder.
When Colombiana came out, there was a lot of hype because some professorial types were annoyed that Colombiana doesn't do a lot to promote any cultural understanding of Columbia and its rich cultural heritage. Zoe Saldana apparently shot her mouth off a bit about it, and it turned into a minor kerfluffle. Also, a lot of people on message boards were complaining that Zoe Saldana doesn't have the muscle mass to be a credible threat to anyone, let alone the muscle-bound guys she takes on in this film. These are both valid points—Colombiana doesn't do much to promote Colombian pride, nor does Zoe Saldana look like the assassin type—but to make these points is to miss the boat entirely.
If you're going to watch a film like Colombiana—especially if you know its co-written by Luc Besson and directed by a guy with a subtle name like Megaton—then certain things like "realism" and "character development" must immediately go out the window. Columbia was likely chosen because it's foreign and exotic, which Besson likes (and maybe the production got a tax break for shooting there). Zoe Saldana was chosen because she looks sexy strapped in a bunch of webbing and guns, and she doesn't mind going with less clothing. So, complaining that the film doesn't promote Columbian culture and Zoe Saldana looks like she could be wiped out with a sneeze are beside the point. However, that doesn't mean there's nothing to complain about. In fact there are a number of reasons to dislike Colombiana that have nothing to do with culture or the heroine's waistline.
First, this feels very much like Besson treading water. He's already done the whole female assassin thing (La Femme Nikita), the little girl wanting revenge (The Professional), and Taken is about the last action/revenge thriller anyone needs to make until they come up with a truly remarkable idea. Colombiana, aside from its exotic location, doesn't have anything new to add to that formula. Sure, there's a little bit of "Is revenge really the best answer?" angst, but we've seen that from Besson before as well.
Second, Megaton isn't entirely in control of this film. Instead of feeling like a train speeding towards a spectacular fight and bloody revenge, it constantly feels like it's going off the rails. Editing isn't nearly smooth enough, pacing is all over the place, and it seems like framing beautiful locations and sexy women is all the film can do right. The action scenes are competent, but they don't ever rise about "acceptable."
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Yet, for all of its problems, there are reasons to watch Colombiana. Besson keeps returning to the well because the story of a young woman getting bloody revenge is still compelling all these years later. The action is handled competently, and the presmise moves swiftly enough so those looking for an action fix will find one. I also can't fault the cast, especially Saldana. Some people might find her thin frame taking on larger guys to be ridiculous, but she sells it with her acting. Her eyes are intense, and I wouldn't want to mess with her. The rest of the cast is a bit more generic, but Jordi Molla always stands out.
One thing I can't fault Colombiana for is this Blu-ray disc. The 2.35:1/1080p AVC-encoded high-def transfer is stunning. Detail is surprisingly strong, even during the high-speed chases, and fine textures come alive. The warm tones of Colombia's landscape come through with sufficient "pop" and black levels are very deep and consistent. No digital effects like DNR or compression artifacts mar the image. For a film that's only so-so, these are amazing visuals. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio lives up to its end as well. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and perfectly balanced with ambient sounds and the soundtrack. Directionality is pretty consistent, and the low end during explosions is spot-on.
Bonus features, like the film, are only so-so. There are a total of five featurettes, three of them exclusive to Blu-ray. They cover everything from the making of the film, to specifics about the training and chases in the film. There is also an Ultraviolet digital copy of the film included as a download option.
Colombiana isn't a bad movie. It's competent, and hits all the right buttons. The only problem is those buttons have been hit before by better films. Action junkies will want to give this a rental, as will Luc Besson afficonados, and those who appreciate Saldana in Star Trek or The Losers. Everyone else can skip it.
Guilty of being wholly unoriginal.
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