From Paris With Love
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If super-secret spy agencies took out want ads, their copy would probably emphasize a few critical elements of the job: the qualifications, the likelihood of travel, the 401(k) plan. And it would certainly mention the job's most self-evident requirement: That being a secret agent means doing lots of work in secret.
James Reece gets that. The hyper-efficient diplomatic assistant spies in his spare time—swapping out license plates, sticking bugs in embassies, that sort of thing. By definition, it's thankless work—not the sort of stuff that earns him "employee of the month" awards. But, then again, public accolades for spying sort of defeats the purpose, no?
Still, James longs to move up the espionage ladder and, after a particularly boring bug-planting operation, he begs his boss for a promotion. So his unseen boss decides to give him a shot—pairing him with his unnamed agency's best agent, Charlie Wax.
Now, when I say best in connection with Wax, I'm using the term loosely. Wax is a "top secret agent" in the same way Lady Gaga is a "decorum expert" or Nancy Grace might "ask a few quiet questions." Wax is as subtle as the Vegas Strip, as subdued as a nuclear meltdown. He can't even order dinner or park his car without killing people. And he bellows his own special catchphrase to surviving evildoers, just to make sure they remember his super-secret name: "Wax on, wax off!" he crows to them, as if Mr. Miyagi might be waiting for them back at their super-secret base.
But his employers love him because he always gets his man, solves the case and protects the free world—or whatever's left of it when he's done. When they give him his neon plaque that reads "Super-Secret Agent of the Month," Wax will likely post the ceremony on YouTube. 'Cause that's just how this secret agent rolls.
Terrorism is bad. Wax and James fight terrorists. Which, in this limited context, makes them "good." Sorta. Furthermore, James does seem to regret the wanton killing involved in fighting terrorism, and he feels particularly bad when innocent police officers get blown up in a booby-trapped apartment building.
The terrorists in question seem to be largely of Middle Eastern descent and, while religion is never mentioned, one terrorist admits to James that she found a cause she can believe in—an ideology that helps make sense of everything and gives her a sense of peace. The suggestion, of course, is that the terrorists are Muslim extremists, but no one ever explicitly says so.
Wax leads a tongue-in-cheek séance during a casual dinner: We hear him say, "Rise, Mr. Ghost!"
James seems to be living with his girlfriend, Caroline. In the first scene we see them together, Caroline has James turn around and look away while she changes clothes. (We see her back.) But later the two begin kissing and giggling—a prelude to sex, it's implied.
"I woke up with my share of Carolines," Wax tells James. And as if to prove it, he hires a prostitute and takes her up to an apartment, where the two have noisy sex behind a closed door. When Wax exits the room, he makes a show of zipping up his pants.
Wax also thrusts his pelvis in a taunting manner to his adversaries and suggests that Parisian women are less "uptight" than those elsewhere. Characters make references to prostitutes and crude allusions to various body parts. Realistic—nude—mannequins take fire during a fight.
The next time Wax comes to town, Paris may change its nickname from City of Lights to City of Yikes. He kills most of the restaurant staff during his first dinner there. And when some thugs don't like the way he parks his car, he kills them, too. He's named his favorite gun ("Mrs. Jones") and has piled up as many bodies as AIG has piled up bonuses. For a while, Wax even keeps a running tally of the people he kills—he reaches 26 about midway through the film and we suspect that the only reason he stops keeping track is because, well, he can't count any higher.
These are not bloodless little Maxwell Smart-style kills, by the way. Wax shoots folks in the leg just to watch 'em fall, cracks necks, stabs jugulars and blows up a few. In one kill-filled scene, we see adversaries plunge down the middle of a circular staircase—sometimes bouncing off rails and stairs on the way down. He shoots a woman in the head during a dinner party, and we see gore spurt out of the exit wound. Those kinds of spurting wounds are not too terribly unusual here, for the record. From Paris With Love is not so much a movie as it is an M-rated video game, where the victims really are little more than notches on Mrs. Jones' barrel.
James mostly leaves the killing to Wax. And when he's confronted with bloodshed, he seems to have a more developed conscience. At one juncture, for instance, he holds a gun on a terrorist but doesn't pull the trigger. This being the kind of movie it is, though, the terrorist does, blowing out his own brains and sending a spray of blood across James' face.
James is at one point forced to shoot a female terrorist in the head. And he more willingly beats one drug dealer to a bloody pulp and threatens the life of someone else just to get his cell phone charger—acts Wax gleefully encourages.
Crude or Profane Language
Close to 75 f-words and 30 s-words. Other curses include "a‑‑," "h‑‑‑" and "d‑‑n." God's name is misused a handful of times; once it's paired with "d‑‑n." Jesus' name is abused once.
Drug and Alcohol Content
A film of cocaine dusts this film. Drug trafficking is a critical part of the plot, and for much of the movie James carts around a vase full of the stuff. They try at times to buy and sell it—a way to burrow into Paris' seedy underworld, it seems—and eventually dump the whole vase in the middle of a thug-choked apartment complex.
But for his partner, coke isn't just a convenient tool. Wax snorts some of it himself and makes James sniff it, too—telling him that if he doesn't use, he won't let him be his partner anymore. Audiences then see James impaired: He has trouble understanding what Wax says and appears to get angry more easily.
Wax, James and others drink wine.
Other Negative Elements
Secret agent Wax? The only secrets Wax manages to keep are from his partner. At first, James just thinks Wax has a personal score to settle with someone. Then Wax tells James they're trying to take down a massive drug cartel. Later, it turns out that the whole drug thing was only part of the picture and they're really gunning for a terror cell. Why does he keep James in the dark? We're never told, so we're left to surmise that it's just because Wax is a jerk.
Perhaps From Paris With Love is not as bad as it seems.
Perhaps its makers were making a subversive satire based on, say, how American tourists are seen by Europeans. Yeah, that's it. Then Wax's propensity for being loud, obnoxious and buying cheap baseball hats that say "I (heart) Paris" might have some deeper meaning. And the fact that Wax blows up cars on a crowded Parisian highway might suggest that Americans don't treat French culture with the respect it deserves. And Wax's ever-climbing body count might be a metaphor for the American fondness for to-do lists.
Do I believe this is what was meant? No. Hardly. Rather, my musings represent a painfully inane delusion—not too different, perhaps, from the delusions this film's makers must have experienced when they thought From Paris With Love was fit to be shown to an audience. Anywhere. It's a film so devoid of wit and merit that the extras Wax "slaughtered" early on might consider themselves fortunate: In the obligatory screenings, they can watch their death scenes, applaud themselves for their acting prowess and walk out of the theater to make better use of their time.
I wish I could've.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
John Travolta as Charlie Wax; Jonathan Rhys Meyers as James Reece; Kasia Smutniak as Caroline
February 5, 2010
June 8, 2010