James (Rhys Meyers) is assistant to the American Ambassador to France (Durden) and is hoping to get involved in intelligence work. James' big break interrupts a romantic evening with his fiancee (Smutniak) as he's assigned to team up with notorious agent Charlie Wax (Travolta). The next 24 hours is a blur of bullets, bombs, cocaine, hookers and terrorists, while James just tries to keep up with Charlie's trail of carnage. And eventually he begins to see a method to Charlie's madness.
The level of destructive chaos in this film is actually impressive, as the filmmakers manage to incorporate all of society's ills without blinking, leaving a trail of bodies, burnt-out cars and blasted buildings across the city. The script doesn't waste a moment, filling each brief moment of down-time with hints and clues that will come back later, including red herrings that keep us smiling and plot twists that we can see coming from a mile away.
It's so utterly absurd that the only sensible response is to sit back and enjoy it. Travolta's performance is beyond over-the-top as he growls and barks his dialog, usually while firing a gun or cannon at the same time. He's nicely balanced by the more urbane Rhys Meyers, who even manages to convince us as an action hero as James is propelled into this underworld of raging machismo.
Meanwhile, the few female characters are either thinly written or spiteful, usually both.
What makes this film work is the way it plays everything dead straight. As the events get nuttier, everyone becomes increasingly serious. And the movie's real star is the stunt coordinator, Taken's Philippe Guegan, who orchestrates some impressive fight scenes and a few jaw-dropping car smashes. Every room James and Charlie walk into erupts quickly into gun-porn mayhem, which is pretty hilarious as long as you remember that this is pure action fluff rather than the comment on the War on Terror it's pretending to be.
Run time: 92 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th February 2010
Box Office USA: $24.0M
Box Office Worldwide: $52.6M
Distributed by: Lionsgate Films
Production compaines: TPS Star, JTP Films, EuropaCorp, Canal+, Grive Productions, M6 Films
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 37%
Fresh: 57 Rotten: 97
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Pierre Morel
Producer: Luc Besson, India Osborne
Screenwriter: Adi Hasak
Starring: John Travolta as FBI agent Charlie Wax, Jonathan Rhys Meyers as James Reece / Richard Stevens, Kasia Smutniak as Caroline, Richard Durden as Ambassador Bennington, Amber Rose Revah as Nichole, Bing Yin as M. Wong, Eric Godon as Foreign Minister