Colombiana (2011)

Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but thanks to a sizzling Zoe Saldana, Luc Besson’s latest shoot-’em-up is a sure-fire scorcher. Teaming with the feisty femme of the moment, Besson has a writer/producer credit on Colombiana, but it’s quite clearly his bambino. Once envisioned as a sequel to Léon starring a grown-up Mathilda, but reworked into a Nikita-aping, assassin-on-a-mission vengeance flick, Colombiana combines both the best and worst of Besson.

The best? Well, in the wake of Angelina Jolie’s so-so Salt, Colombiana knows how to have a good time and get its hands grubby. Director Olivier Megaton’s mission statement is ‘Bourne with boobs’, and he very nearly hits that target. With its opening shot cradling an endless sea of favelas, not to mention Colombiana’s handful of dusty, dirty fist fights (choreographed by The Bourne Identity’s Alain Figlarz), Megaton’s film is a refined style-oozer that doesn’t beat around the bush.

A pacy but patchy opening introduces us to 10-year-old Cataleya, whose parents have just been shot dead. She escapes alive – but only just. Fifteen years later, Cataleya is working as an assassin for her gangster uncle, offing bad guys on his behalf while secretly planning to avenge her dead parents. Which is when Saldana makes her killer entrance, ploughing into a police car and giggling drunkenly when she’s arrested. As she’s thrown into the clink to sober up, Colombiana’s finest set piece unravels – a near-wordless jail assassination that shows us what Cataleya (and Saldana) is made of.

A wily, wiry waster, Saldana holds her own in a massively physical role – most impressively during a brutal final hour bathroom brawl that has her going 10 rounds with a guy twice her size. Shame, then, that Megaton chooses to fetishise her so much; popping Saldana in nipple-enhancing vests and having her suck on lollipops only works to trivialise our otherwise fierce and fearsome anti-heroine.

Because, yes, Colombiana is the kind of subtlety-free movie where guns are strapped under tables, gates are smashed open by rampaging trucks, and doors are blown up instead of kicked in. Megaton’s film would have done well to stick to the punchy, chat-free approach of its jail segment.

As dodgy dialogue pinched from the Big Book Of Crime Thriller Clichés is repeatedly stuffed down our throats (‘She’s the mist under the door, you won’t see her until it’s too late!”), it’s clear that Colombiana would’ve worked better as a sexy, sultry silent movie. With a bare bones story set out in a visually snappy way, the dialogue only serves to sour the dish.

Anticipation: A post-Avatar Zoe Saldana nabs her first mo-cap-free lead role and Besson’s producing? Where do we sign up? 4

Enjoyment: Saldana sizzles as a feisty fatal femme, making up for the duff dialogue. 3

In Retrospect:
Colombiana wants to be Bourne with boobs, but its connect-the-dots narrative and silted script means it can’t quite reach those bone-crunching heights. 3

The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010)

Luc Besson knows his heroines. From Nikita’s tortured assassin to Léon’s vengeful tween, the French filmmaker is no stranger to bum-kicking babes. And after an all-too-long absence from the directing landscape, Besson’s back with another.

Her name is Adèle Blanc-Sec. Single-minded and no-nonsense, she’s a pert, period crossbreed of Lara Croft and Murder, She Wrote’s Jessica Fletcher – a cheerfully colourful antidote to Lisbeth Salander’s gothy inclinations.

Trading in the gloom of his grainy ’90s thrillers, Adèle finds Besson revelling in whimsy and wonder. Adapted from Jacques Tardi’s early ’70s comic book series, Adèle’s first movie adventure begins in 1912 Paris. She’s working overtime to find a cure for her sister, who’s been rendered little more than a pale vegetable after a freak accident.

In her quest, Adèle needs the help of expert telepath Espérandieu, who’s just used his powers to hatch a 136 million year old egg, giving birth to a real life pterodactyl.

Mixing in mummies, buffoon-like police inspectors and a mélange of comedy disguises, it would be easy to dismiss Adèle as a fanciful kiddy romp from the same Besson who made Arthur and the Invisibles. But Besson’s film isn’t without its own insidious charms.

Our heroine unrobes in a moody bathroom scene lifted straight from the comic, while the humour is black as the devil’s soul, with giant hatpins embedded in skulls and accidental decapitation inducing guffaws and grimaces in equal measure.

Relative newcomer Louise Bourgoin is also a delight as the titular heroine; fun sidebars following her treks to Egypt and attempted costumed jail breaks prove she’s a dab hand at both comedy and drama. But Adèle does suffer a slightly fractured feel, blending meandering Amelie-style narrative offshoots with cartoon-like energy. And despite some lavish visuals, there are some embarrassing moments of low-grade CGI – not least when a character attempts to ride the pterodactyl.

For Besson, Adèle is clearly the first in what he hopes will become a franchise. While a trip to our heroine’s first big screen adventure reaps some fine moments, it’s hard to say if anybody will be pressing for a return ticket.

Anticipation: Luc Besson’s first live-action directing gig in five years. 4

Enjoyment: Flagrantly silly, but also disarmingly feather-light and charming. 4

In Retrospect: At times a little too fly away, Adèle Blanc-Sec is perky and delightful, if a little too capricious. 3

Via Little White Lies