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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Movies: Colombiana

 

Colombiana (Two Stars)
U.S.: Olivier Megaton, 2011

She’s young. She’s tough. She’s agile. She’s half-naked. And  she’s definitely deadlier than the male — at least in this movie.

Zoë Saldana, who was kind of blue in James Cameron‘s Avatar, plays producer-writer Luc Besson‘s notion of a rock ‘em sock ‘em action heroine in Colombiana — which means that she’s often undressed, drop dead gorgeous and frequently engaged in killing people.  Lots of people die in Colombiana, many of them at the hands of Zoë’s character, hit woman Catelaya Restrepo, and they usually shuffle off mortal coils in ways as picturesque as Besson and director Olivier Megaton and co-writer Robert Mark Kamen (the Karate Kid movies) can dream up: eaten by sharks in a Scarface-style drug lord’s orgy den/swimming pool, or going down in alleged safe houses in hailstorms of bullets.

The first casualties are Catelaya’s parents — captured and slain by a Colombian cocaine cartel in the first big action scene, when she‘s only ten (and played by child actress Amandla Stenberg.) But most of the others are just preparation, or practice– part of a furious quest for revenge by Saldana’s Catelaya, who decides on a career in murder and vengeance as a ten-year-old and is helped along by her gangster Uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis), who also makes sure she gets a good Chicago parochial school education. (Those must be some confessions.)

In later life, when she gets going on her assassin career, Catelaya’s “victims” are mostly drug miscreants and scumbags whom she kills in order to get to her parents’ killers, the fiendish drug lord Don Luis (Beto Benites) and his main associate/torpedo Marco (Jordi Molla), two crook/killers who are being protected by the C. I. A., in exchange for information which Don Luis never quite provides. This may all seem kind of ludicrous, and it is — though Besson and Megaton try to keep things barreling along at such a blistering clip that we won’t notice. They can’t. The whole movie is ridiculous — though perhaps its unfair to criticize this film for not possessing something it clearly doesn’t want: a lick of sense.

There’s not a scene in Colombiana that isn’t nonsensical in some way or another, and the only actor who manages a really convincing performance is Lennie James as dour FBI special agent Ross. But it’s also clear that the filmmakers aren’t really trying to avoid nonsense. They’re aggressively pursuing it. They’re throwing in a little Salt, a little Lara Croft, a little Underworld, U.S.A., a little Countess of Monte Cristo, and whipping up the whole senseless shmeer into an over-edited frenzy of preposterous hyper-activity.

Saldana and Stenberg make the absurdities somewhat watchable. Stenberg spins her limber way though extreme action scenes of parkour with little Catelaya seemingly leaping from rooftop to rooftop to sidewalk to street, pursued through sunny Bogota by   Colombian cocaine cartel thugs, and as Saldana slithers and shakes and strips though slam-bang scenes of firefight and assassination and arguments with Uncle Emilio.

The movie, which is shot very well by Oliver Stapleton (though I thought the Bogota scenes were a little too hazy) just keeps piling it on. Besson and Kamen and Megaton somehow imagine a prison where prisoner Zoë pulls open vents, crawls through crawlspaces, kills another scumbag and escapes out the window, or where she blows up buildings single-handedly while being besieged by what seems several SWAT teams, or where she  engages in wild kung fu, feeds her victims to the sharks, or breaks into Don Luis’ hacienda and takes on everybody in sight — while dropping Catelaya orchids everywhere as her signature. And discussing her feelings with artist/lover Danny Delanay (Michael Vartan).

But this isn’t supposed to be an endless  hallucination brought on by too much cocaine. It’s a carefully plotted mass entertainment, intended for our amusement. We were not much amused, though at least we weren’t looking at our watch every ten minutes. There’s some crazy fun to be gotten out of all this, for someone, but it’s the kind of fun that leaves you feeling a little ashamed of yourself. Since when did it become a rule of thumb that action movies has to be so wildly over the top, so utterly senseless — all baloney, all the time?

Director Olivier Megaton, ex-graffiti artist and director of Transporter 3, gave himself his curious last name as an allusion to the Hiroshima A-Bomb, which I hope didn’t also inspire his career in film. He clearly doesn’t want to be confused with Olivier Assayas, though “Megaton” opens up so many pun opportunities for vicious critics that one would think that, in self defense, he might switch his name back to Fontana. Then again, anyone who‘d make a movie like Colombiana clearly has no fear of anything — especially movie critics.

As for Luc Besson, whose curious Franco-American work I’ve been following since his dialogue-less apocalyptic fable Le Dernier Combat in 1984,  he seems be able to knock off movies like this in his sleep, maybe especially in his sleep.  Every once in a while he does a sort of “serious” picture (The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc) or a sort of art film (Angel-A),  but he seems most comfortable making movies (or getting others to make them) like Colombiana — the only film I can think of recently where the publicists carefully informed us how to spell the title. That’s C-O-L-O-M-B-I-A-N-A. (They should have given us a Spell-check alert on “Amandla Stenberg,“ which I’ll bet came out as Amanda Steinberg somewhere.)

As for Zoë Saldana and the movie’s attempts to make her a female Arnold Schwarzenegger, or maybe the next Angelina Jolie, I’d rather see her taking off her clothes in a romantic comedy or drama any day, or even an action movie with a sensible script and less preposterous scenes. That might be fun to watch.

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Wilmington

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“I suddenly couldn’t say anything about some of the movies. They were just so terrible, and I’d already written about so many terrible movies. I love writing about movies when I can discover something in them – when I can get something out of them that I can share with people. The week I quit, I hadn’t planned on it. But I wrote up a couple of movies, and I read what I’d written, and it was just incredibly depressing. I thought, I’ve got nothing to share from this. One of them was of that movie with Woody Allen and Bette Midler, Scenes From a Mall. I couldn’t write another bad review of Bette Midler. I thought she was so brilliant, and when I saw her in that terrible production of ‘Gypsy’ on television, my heart sank. And I’d already panned her in Beaches. How can you go on panning people in picture after picture when you know they were great just a few years before? You have so much emotional investment in praising people that when you have to pan the same people a few years later, it tears your spirits apart.”
~ Pauline Kael On Quitting

“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

~ Biographer Shawn Levy on Jerry Lewis on Facebook