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A dish served lukewarm

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All I knew about the new movie 'Columbiana' going in was that Zoe Saldana ('Avatar') was the star and noted French action-freak Luc Besson wrote the screenplay and produced the film. With just those two pieces in place, I figured we had a shot at something interesting.

After all, Besson has shown on numerous occasions ('La Femme Nikita', 'The Fifth Element') that he has a knack for creating kick-ass chicks. Add to that resume scripts like 'The Professional,' 'The Transporter' and 'Taken' - we're clearly looking at a guy who knows how to write an action movie.

And yet, 'Columbiana' inspires nothing so much as a resounding 'meh.'

It's the story of Cataleya Restrepo (Saldana), a young woman who watches her mid-level gangster parents killed after her father attempts to leave the employ of Bogota drug lord Don Luis (Benito Benites, 'Hermano'). The gang that came to kill her and her family, led by the creepily soft-spoken Marco (Jordi Molla, 'Knight and Day'), inadvertently lets her escape. The young girl tracks down her uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis, 'The Last Airbender') in Chicago and demands his help in seeking her vengeance.

Flash-forward 15 years and the now-grown Cataleya has become a full-fledged assassin, a cold-blooded killer who has been leaving messages on her victims for three years in hopes of flushing out the forces of Don Luis. Finally, her messages are made public and Don Luis, Marco and the crew (who have been operating in the US under CIA protection for years) clearly recognize who it is and what she means to do.

You can probably figure it out from there.

I had not high hopes, necessarily, but hopes for this movie. I've liked Saldana for a while, and movies like 'The Losers' proved her capable of this kind of action-y goodness. And Besson has written some of the most engaging action movies of the past two decades. It should have been a winning combination.

Alas, no.

Frankly, the highlight of the movie for me was young Cataleya's escape from Don Luis' thugs at the film's beginning. Once Saldana made her appearance, the proceedings thudded squarely into mediocrity. The action scenes, while engaging, weren't enough to overcome the general flatness of the story. For the most part, we're not looking at characters so much as plot devices - the turn Michael Vartan (TV's 'Alias') takes as Cataleya's ostensible love interest is a particularly egregious example of that.

Still, this film's biggest offense is probably its inescapable dullness. There's never any real urgency; in this world, everyone except our heroine is stunningly bad at his or her job, so there's never any concern for her safety. Even moments that should have real impact fall flat, simply because they're entirely expected.

It just goes to show you that a movie can always become less than the sum of its parts, regardless of how high the quality of those individual parts may be.

1Popcorn

Last modified on Thursday, 13 October 2011 09:11

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