In the generic but breezily entertaining From Paris with Love, John Travolta runs around sporting a bald head, a goatee, a hoop earring and an I-don't-give-a-damn disposition. Playing Charlie Wax, a U.S. special agent sent to Paris to thwart a terrorist attack, Travolta is funny and limber and a genuine bad-ass - someone who gets a secret kick out of always being smarter than everyone else in the room. This is Travolta's most enjoyable and energetic performance since Pulp Fiction and Primary Colors, and he's a blast to watch.
Directed by Pierre Morel, who previously made two equally brisk (District 13 and last year's Taken), From Paris with Love doesn't waste a second of its 92 minutes. A protégé of French filmmaker Luc Besson (who produced the film), Morel has an unusually strong knack for pacing without assaulting you with his editing (ahem, Michael Bay). Morel is also shrewd at never slowing down his story with unnecessary exposition. Here, you learn everything you need to know along the way.
For example, the movie introduces James Reece (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), an assistant to the U.S. ambassador who will become Wax's unwilling partner. At first, you figure Reece for a nebbish pencil pusher, until a scene in which he tries to plant a microphone under a desk with chewing gum that isn't sticky enough. Although he's resourceful, Reece is the mirror opposite of Wax - he's a man of words, not action - and their odd-couple pairing should have been tiresome and cliched.
But here, the mismatch leads to some inspired action, such as a scene in which the men ascend a spiral staircase lined with bad guys, Wax one floor ahead of Reece to clear the way, the latter horrified at the stream of bloodied bodies his partner keeps flinging over the bannister.
From Paris With Love is also filled with bits of business that you'd never catch the good guys of American pictures doing. When the heroes hole up in a brothel to wait for the bad guys to arrive, Wax decides to pass the time by partaking of the services offered. For about a third of the movie, the pair runs around holding a large vase filled with cocaine. The drug is supposedly evidence, but the heroes occasionally dip into it for an extra boost before walking into a gunfight. You know, like Red Bull, only not.
Even the plot of From Paris with Love, as simple as the film's brief running time implies, contains a couple of terrific twists, including one dinner scene that would send even the Food Network's unflappable Barefoot Contessa screaming from the room. From Paris with Love isn't anything special, and it lacks the furious energy that Liam Neeson brought to Taken. But the movie is a more-than-adequate time filler before the big films of spring start to arrive, and it proves there's plenty of life left in Travolta beyond crap such as Wild Hogs and Old Dogs. He just needs the right director to get his mojo going.