John Travolta loves to be bad. And so he is clearly having a blast — in both senses of the word — in this film, playing a bald guy with an earring who likes to shoot first and think later. As Charlie Wax, a top ops guy who loves to break rules and mess with heads, he gives new meaning to the word trigger-happy.
If only it was as much fun for the audience. But this movie was clearly more about entertaining the star than the ticket-buyers. Wax arrives in Paris noisy and obnoxious, arguing with security about bringing his “energy drink” into the country. Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a straight-laced, chess master, embassy aide who is hoping for a promotion to black ops, slaps a diplomatic sticker on Wax’s bag to get him through. Then they are off for an odd-couple buddy-cop joy ride that involves drug dealers, terrorists, and many opportunities for shooting first and not sticking around to ask questions later. For no particular reason, Reece ends up carrying a vase filled with cocaine through many different locations like takeout.
Even by the low bar for this genre, “From Paris With Love” feels under-scripted. There are a few good set-ups from director Pierre Morel (“District B13”), including a scene in a stairwell where our updates on the action come from the bodies falling past a stunned Reece and a shoot-out in a warehouse filled with mannequins lined up like terra cotta warriors. But it misses when it asks us to take Wax even a little bit seriously as a good guy. The title’s reference to James Bond and a painful reminder of Travolta’s better days in “Pulp Fiction” just ring hollow. Return to sender.