I approached Colombiana with meager expectations and still managed to walk away pretty disappointed. Apparently, an action flick from Luc Besson's stable starring Zoe Saldana as a lethal assassin can equate to something other than a slam dunk. A spirited opening and bombastic climax can't make up for the soggy mid-section and its massive lapses in logic.
Saldana stars in the film as Cataleya. She has a chip on her shoulder and with good reason. When she was a kid living in Colombia, her mother (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and father (Jesse Borrego) were gunned down by cartel boss Don Luis (Beto Benites) and his goons (led by Jordi Molla). Okay, so her dad was part of the same cartel and through his choices in life he had condemned his wife and child to a life of crime, but I'm just muddying the waters. The point remains, her parents got killed and Cataleya got pissed off. After making her way to America she reconnected with her uncle (Cliff Curtis) who also, unfortunately, lived on the wrong side of the law. This suited Cataleya just fine since her only desire in life was to grow up and kill the man who orphaned her.
This brings us back to Saldana. Through some tortured reasoning and under the tutelage of her uncle, she has grown up to be a sprightly professional assassin. In order to stay on the good side of simple-minded audience members like you and me, she only kills criminals and other assorted scumbags. Whenever she takes a life, she also leaves behind an elaborate calling card in the hopes that she'll catch the eye of Don Luis who has gone underground in recent years. Not helping her case is the dedicated FBI Agent Ross (Lennie James) who is hot on her trail and the slimy CIA agent (Callum Blue) who just wants to keep Don Luis hidden in order to serve his unscrupulous masters. Now, you tell me. In a case like this, what's a girl with a BFG to do?
I've already alluded to it a couple of times but here's my big problem with Colombiana. After the thrilling setup, the film gets dumb...really, really dumb. Despite being a slick killing machine, Cataleya is an immensely stupid character and there's not much Saldana can do to extract herself from the hole that Besson and co-writer Robert Mark Kamen toss her into. I understand why young Cataleya is angry and I can accept that she wants to kill Don Luis. I'm not sure how that translates into her career as a professional assassin where she spends most of her time killing people who are not Don Luis. Equally asinine is her plan of leaving behind markers at her kills so that Luis can follow her work and eventually reveal himself. Is it smarter to track down a man who doesn't know you're after him or to keep sending up flares so that he can see you without revealing himself? Never mind. Captain Obvious just punched me for asking (two for flinching).
I know, I know. I keep going on about how the film doesn't make any sense while you sit there pitying my anal-retentive nature. Perhaps you're thinking that sometimes a film doesn't have to tie up every loose end if the action can melt your face off to a satisfying degree. I would actually be perfectly happy if that were the case here, but it's not. Frankly, the opening parkour sequence featuring a young Amandla Stenberg escaping from Jordi Molla gave me a great deal of hope for the rest of the film. Director Olivier Megaton (love that name) lenses the entire chase with a restless kinetic energy that stays with you just long enough that you start to notice its absence once the proceedings move to America. Saldana, as Cataleya all grown up, gets to participate in a couple of needlessly complicated assassinations but is otherwise kept on hold until the explosive finale.
Since the film has all that time to fill between the awkwardly spaced out action highlights, we are treated to an insipid romance between Saldana and Michael Vartan who is only on hand to insist that there is more to Cataleya than meets the eye. If romantic clichés aren't your thing, perhaps you'll be drawn in by other character moments like the touching scene where Cliff Curtis explains to young Stenberg that she should stay in school by shooting up an entire residential street in broad daylight. I guess what I'm saying is that if you do choose to view this film, prepare for strangeness piled on top of blandness in between the adrenaline spikes offered by the action bits. Of the performances, Saldana and Molla offer up some energy on the screen especially during their climactic (wo)mano-a-mano fight.
I believe I can sum up my feelings towards this film by expressing my outrage at the choice of song played over the final scenes. Johnny Cash's cover of 'Hurt' is a thing of bruised beauty. Its raw power should be used to punctuate a similarly spare cinematic epic. With a little more care from Besson and Kamen we could have had a film worthy of it. Colombiana is not that film.
The movie was presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The image was fairly clear but I did notice a bit of shimmer during some wide panning shots and instances of moiré elsewhere. The color palette favored earth tones with an emphasis on yellows and browns, especially during the early scenes in Colombia (actually Mexico). Altogether this was a pretty decent presentation for the material at hand.
The audio was presented in English, English SDH and French Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. I found the surround mix to be vibrant and punchy especially during the extended action sequences of the opening chase and the climactic fight. I didn't notice any obvious defects and thought the rear speakers pulled their fair share of the weight. English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles were available.
First up, we have Colombiana: The Making Of (25:12). This featurette includes interviews with most of the principal cast and crew. Director Megaton kicks things off by describing the film as something more than just action by noting its dramatic elements. The stress of shooting in 3 different countries is also covered. Saldana discusses the fun side of weapons handling. The whole thing closes with a few minutes dedicated to a gag reel. The second featurette, Cataleya's Journey (9:34), follows along similar lines but focuses a great deal more on the performance and motivation of young Amandla Stenberg. Although the featurettes have a bit of overlap, they did complement each other nicely.
When Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen are on fire, they are capable of writing high-concept action flicks like Taken and the Transporter series. When they are not, they give us duds like Colombiana. Although Olivier Megaton directs the action scenes with verve and polish, he can't do anything with the awkward plotting that gets us from opening to climax. Zoe Saldana is saddled with a character whose motives are confusing at best. She does what she can with the role but fails to leave a lasting impact. Unless you're a Besson completist, you'd probably do better to get your action jollies elsewhere. Skip It.