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Review: “Colombiana”

The Projector

1. "Colombiana" is about twice as ridiculous as it thinks it is and half as ridiculous as it needs to be. A movie like this needs to be wild and over the top and have tongue planted firmly in cheek ... or it needs to be grounded and dark and weird. This movie is neither. Its flathead plotline and dim-bulb characters need to be the point: overstylized stereotypes who meet bad ends in explosive fashion. Instead, we're asked far more often than we should be to take them seriously. This movie is schlock than can't even rise to the level of schlock.

2. Zoe Saldana plays another of writer/producer Luc Busson's arse-kicking, smoking hot ladies, a construction that once felt daring and unexpected and now just sort of feels like a creepy old guy getting his rocks off. We first meet young Cataleya as her parents are being murdered in front of her, setting her on the road to a life of revenge. I can't tell whether it's to "Colombiana"'s credit or detriment that it acts as if this is the first time this plot has ever been told, as opposed to perhaps the most common backstory in narrative fiction. (I'm partial to Batman and Inigo Montoya.) Once her family is murdered -- unlike Bruce Wayne's parents, Cataleya's appear to actually be drug dealers who got in over their head -- she meets her uncle in Chicago. It is possible her uncle is not the most responsible guardian. When she, aged 10, tells him, "I want to be a killer," his response is not "you can't, because that's an unacceptable life choice and also you're 10." I sort of think that's the only answer there.

3. Anyway, so Cateleya becomes the only type of killer she should be: a hot one. She wears skintight jumpsuits while sneaking into a prison to murder inmates (perhaps it's easier to sneak between the bars?), she dons a one-piece Olympic-style swimsuit to kill a Madoff-esque bigwig whose home is surrounded by sharks (sure!) and sucks lollipops while dancing in her underwear, which, while not exactly relevant to her profession, at least pads the running time in a pleasant enough fashion. Cateleya is a serial killer, which is why the feds are after her, but the movie never thinks much about the implications of her actions, or what's going on in her head; it's too busy taking her shirt off and having her rub all over Michael Vartan, who shows up for the sex scenes and then leaves. (This doesn't stop him from whining about his predicament, regardless.) Cateleya is ultimately trying to find the guy who killed her parents, though, again, he was just a fellow soldier in a drug war. You could argue that her parents were hardly blameless victims here. I wouldn't argue that, though, lest Cateleya shoot me in the face.

4. I've probably made this sound like an enjoyably scuzzy romp, with killer sharks and sleazy drug lords and sweaty drug scenes. Oh, but if only! "Colombiana" is rated PG-13, and that's a pretty reliable description of just how tame it is. Much of the film feels like an edited-for-TV movie with all the dirty parts scrubbed out. More accurately, it feels like they were edited out via Cuisinart. That director Olivier Megaton desperately wants to be Michael Bay is depressing enough; that he lacks even Bay's basic composition skills is just sad. Also, this must have the worst action-film score I can remember: It sounds like the "Inception" score played with bongos and a xylophone.

5. "Colombiana" does have a bit of campy fun, even if you're not sure whether or not the film knows it. At one point, Cateleya trudges her way through an extended battle scene using toothbrushes at weapons; Megaton is too easily distracted by shining objects to slow down enough to note that, uh, his heroine is hitting a guy with toothbrushes. It also makes good use of its one-eff-word-per-PG-13 movie quotient, asking a question the audience had been awfully curious about itself. And Saldana might be able to act? She keeps trying to give Cateleya a personality when the movie feels no need to bother, though the juxtaposition of a merciless gangland murder and Cataleya crying because she misses her boyfriend are jarring, to say the least. That's sort of the problem. You keep wanting "Colombiana" to go all the way in one direction, or all the way in the other. Instead, it just sits there, content to give Saldana a lollypop. It's a strategy.

Grade: C-