In his commentary on the DVD of About Schmidt, director Alexander Payne reveals that the picture originally included a scene in which Jack Nicholson places a restaurant order only to be informed by his waitress that substitutions are not permitted. The sequence was designed to evoke the classic breakfast scene in Five Easy Pieces and contrast Schmidt’s docile conformity with the free-spiritedness of Nicholson’s earlier character. In the end, Payne explains, he deleted it from the final cut because he was concerned that the reference would take viewers out of the movie.
Of course, there are some movies you want to be taken out of. From Paris With Love is the latest from director Pierre (Taken) Morel, and it is a jaw-droppingly pinheaded mess of a follow-up. How dopey and desperate does it get? John Travolta stars as foul-mouthed CIA killing machine Charlie Wax, and Morel stoops to making his favorite food the French McDonald’s “Royale with cheese.” Which naturally makes us think of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, in which Travolta played a character with similar tastes. And takes us out of the movie.
Which isn’t such a bad thing. Because this is a staggeringly bad film, an action-comedy buddy film in which the action is hackneyed, the comedy is laugh-proof and the buddies have all the chemistry of salt and pepper shakers. A miscast Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays James Reese, an American aide to the U.S. ambassador (Richard Durden) in France. Dreaming of a more exciting life as a CIA operative, Reese gets the chance to prove he has what it takes when Wax hits town on a secret mission and he’s ordered to partner up.
The mission, apparently, is a secret even to screenwriter Adi Hasak. One minute the mismatched pair is shooting up a restaurant that serves as headquarters for a Chinese drug ring. The next, Wax and Reese are shooting Pakistani baddies they suspect of planning a terrorist attack. The whole business is an incomprehensible mishmash hinging on the sort of surprise twist that really ought to earn filmmakers jail time.
It’s like a Bourne movie minus the brains. Reese is pretty much relegated to looking on in awe as Wax takes out the Eurotrash. He’s unstoppable in a totally cartoonish way. Wherever Travolta goes, bullets and bodies fly, but his havoc is all in the editing. The character is also unbelievably obnoxious. He cracks himself up with lines like “Wax on, Wax off,” which he addresses to groups of Asians who are oblivious to the taunt’s political incorrectness. Not to mention the fact that it isn’t remotely clever.
To be fair, everyone else’s dialogue is equally dreadful. It’s some of the lamest I’ve heard in years. The only thing ghastlier is the acting. Even the leads are distractingly wooden at times. You know Travolta’s in iffy form when you find yourself wistfully recalling the glories of Battlefield Earth and Old Dogs.
Ninety minutes of been-there-done-that car chases, shoot-outs and fake kung fu, From Paris With Love feels left over from another era. Even setting it in the City of Lights doesn’t help matters. On this particular occasion, neither the skyline of Paris nor anyone connected with the picture comes off as terribly bright.