In the generic but entertaining “From Paris with Love,” John Travolta runs around sporting a bald head, a goateeand 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. 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 movies (“District 13” and “Taken”), “From Paris with Love” doesn’t waste a second of its 92 minutes. A protege of French filmmaker Luc Besson (producer), 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 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.
Even the plot contains a couple of terrific twists.
“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, and it proves there’s plenty of life left in Travolta.