Luc Besson is the Del Boy of the scriptwriting world. When he’s doing things for himself, he has an admirable gift for a good story (Leon and Nikita being two prime examples of Besson quality) but when he’s writing for other directors, it’s all too easy to imagine him selling them from beneath a trench coat (“Psst, buddy. Wanna buy a script?”) or flogging them wholesale out of the back of a van.
Colombiana is the latest script to fall of the back of Besson’s speeding wagon and like all merchandise from suspicious sources it stops working a few minutes after you get it home. It sees Zoe Saldana (beautiful but way too thin, with legs that look like they’re made of breadsticks) as Cataleya, a hitman (hitwoman?), named after an indigenous species of flowering orchid, out for revenge against the mobsters who killed her parents.
Despite a promising early scene in which a 10 year old Cataleya escapes her pursuers in a rooftop chase, Colombiana first stumbles, then trips down a narrative stairwell, shattering every bone on the way down before crawling away to die in a crumpled and broken heap.
There’s nothing wrong with Saldana’s performance (even if her legs do look like they’re about to snap in half in the next stiff breeze) – she’s believably lithe and athletic so her scrambling through ventilation shafts is certainly plausible. It’s a shame the same can’t be said about Besson’s script which has all the finesse of a half-blind hunchback.
It frequently makes little sense and contradicts itself at every turn. For example, after chasing a young Cataleya, the pursuing mobsters are reprimanded for taking shots at her, only to open fire with more high powered ordnance than can be found in Charlton Heston’s basement only moments later with hardly a blink. The plot thuds along with all the predictability of clockwork cliché machine – all plot holes, appalling dialogue and paper-thin contrivances.
It’s frustratingly lazy. Cataleya keeps a lover who she occasionally visits by breaking into his house for some nookie but he knows nothing about her, not even her real name. So when he declares his undying love for her later on in the film, it’s clearly just an attempt to squeeze some emotional juice out of a narrative lemon.
There are so many coincidences, so many convenient plot points, so many obviously written sections (sample: “What’s that? A Cataleya?” “How do you know?” “Oh my wife’s Colombian”), that it’s at first funny, then irritating and finally utterly maddening.
Oliver Megaton directs with all the subtlety that his name would suggest – action scenes are either alarmingly hammy or just plainly dull – only the childhood escape sequence has anything approaching a pulse. He also seems to have a worrying obsession with Saldana’s nipples – as if she were required to have a cold shower before every scene. Either that, or in addition to killing people, she’s been moonlighting as the world’s most successful peanut smuggler.
Colombiana is a woeful excuse for an action movie. There’s promise at the beginning when it seems that Besson might further develop the “child becomes professional killer” trope. But for the most part, it plays out like a worn out and terrible joke.