“My dad could beat up your dad!”
“Nuh-uh! My dad could kill your dad! And your whole family too!”
This is the sort of conversation I picture young Cataleya Restrepo having with her classmates on the playground.
When Pops shows up onscreen he seems nice enough. And he’s even trying to quit the crime biz—telling drug kingpin Don Luis that it’s time for him to move on … perhaps to open up a shoe store or something. Don Luis seems to take the news in stride … right up until he orders his men to kill him, that is. And in less time than it takes to make a bologna sandwich, Cataleya’s an orphan.
No worries. Don Luis’ men have plans to reunite her with her extended family. But first they need to get a little computer chip from the little girl. Marco, the henchman honcho, sits down with Cataleya to explain matters to her—and maybe lie a little. Hand over that tiny trinket your father gave you, he says, and we’ll take care of you and everything else. Yes, we’ll take real good ca—
Thwack! The girl pulls a knife out of nowhere and stabs Marco in the hand. Swish! She’s out of the apartment like a cat, eluding bad ‘uns through the sewers and eventually making her way to the U.S. Embassy. Thworp! She throws up on an embassy desk, retrieving the digital chip from her vomit. Zip! She’s off to Chicago and a new life … where she’ll be well taken care of by Emilio, her father’s brother (or something) who we quickly see was in the same line of work as her pops. And, after she has a good cry, Cataleya announces she wants to get involved in the family business.
“I want to be a killer,” she tells Emilio. “Can you help?”
Emilio ponders for a moment. “Sure!” he says.
Well, you know what they say. A family that slays together, stays together.
If you look past all the killing and beating and lousy behavioring taking place in Colombiana, you can clearly see that Cataleya’s kin really do care about her. Her father delivers to her a heartwarming speech and a special necklace that will supposedly keep her safe. Her mother cries and touches her cheek before she too is killed.
Cataleya also cares for people, in her own way. She’s awfully sad when she goes home and finds her adoptive family dead, for instance. And she sincerely hopes that the beau with whom she’s sleeping doesn’t wind up dead as well. She feeds her dogs steak. And she lets loose her pet finch before she flies the coop herself in advance of the FBI barging into her apartment.
Cataleya’s American family attends mass. The last time she sees her adoptive mother and Emilio alive, in fact, is within the confines of a church service (though it’s suggested that Cataleya herself rarely attends with the rest). Emilio admits that he prays for Cataleya and wears a cross around his neck—as does Marco. “I was at your confirmation,” the latter man cheerily tells Cataleya before she perforates his hand.
Once she’s a woman, Cataleya is constantly stripping off bits of clothing and putting on other bits. Her wardrobe is almost entirely made up of suggestive clothing—and she sometimes writhes and dances around her apartment in said clothing for no good reason. Thus, we see her in her underwear a few times and watch her take off her bra or take a shower (from the back) a few more. She often wears her thin shirts without a bra.
Cataleya has a couple of sensual sex scenes with her confused boyfriend, Danny. It seems that the two don’t do much of anything except have sex—and Danny thinks there’s something a little odd about that. Alas, Cataleya’s line of work doesn’t present much opportunity for small talk, so when he tells her to tell him something about herself, she says, “I feel lonely sometimes.”
“Thank you,” he responds. “I do too.” And then they start kissing and taking off clothes again.
Cataleya is contracted to kill a Ponzi schemer who’s hiding out with a gaggle of buxom women wearing little more than skimpy underwear. We also see the man walking around in boxers (gesturing to his groin at one point) and a silky bathrobe.
Is there a reason for Colombiana to exist at all apart from the violence? (And all the gratuitous dressing and undressing, of course.) The answer is no. This movie bows at the altar of indiscriminate mayhem, a portion of which I’ll describe here:
Cataleya kills loads of people—most of whom have nothing to do with the death of her father of mother. Many, as an FBI agent tells us, were “professional bad apples”—and this hard-core killer has murdered at least 23 of them already. She shoots one in a prison cell, strangles another in a bathroom stall, electrocutes a third in a bathtub. She feeds a nefarious evildoer to her dogs. (They attack when she says “eat.”) One target, for some reason, keeps a school of sharks in a pool covered with glass. Cataleya opens a panel, shoots her victim a couple of times in the leg and watches him fall into the water—to be devoured by his own toothy pets. When she invades another mansion with another bad guy, she leaves a serious trail of dead and bleeding guards in her wake. High-profile kills she tags with a drawing of the Cataleya orchid—trying to send a message to her parents’ attackers.
Not that she kills everyone she meets. Some folks she merely threatens. When she needs an FBI agent’s help, for instance, she waits for him at his apartment and forces him to sit down in a chair rigged to explode should he stand up again. She tells him that if he doesn’t help her, he’ll attend the funeral of one of his family members each and every week until he changes his mind.
Then she says, “Sorry.”
Cataleya also fires a bullet through a CIA agent’s supposedly bullet-proof window and pins a laser sight to his chest.
Someone gets stabbed in the neck with a knife. Towels and toothbrushes are used as weapons. A man is hit in the testicles. Emilio beats someone who’s tied to a chair while a young Cataleya waits outside. And while walking Cataleya home from school, Emilio pulls out a gun and shoots a car several times, sending it careening into a fire hydrant, setting it on fire and presumably killing all occupants. The surprise “hit” was intended, somehow, to teach Cataleya that it’s important to go to school before becoming a professional killer. She gets the point, and the two casually walk back home—never mind the numerous bystanders who presumably saw the whole thing.
One f-word and about 10 s-words, along with other foul words such as “a‑‑,” “b‑‑ch,” “b‑‑tard” and “h‑‑‑.” God’s name is misused more than a half-dozen times (once with “d‑‑n”); Jesus’ name is abused twice.
Don Luis and his cronies seem to be involved in the drug trade, though we never actually see any drugs change hands. We do see people drink (whiskey and wine) and smoke. Cataleya pretends to be drunk, hitting a police car with her own in order to get arrested. (One of her marks is already in jail.)
A woman working in a police station does an unauthorized scan of an image as a favor. The CIA seems to collude with a crime boss to try to rid the world of Cataleya.
What to say about Colombiana? Is it profound? No. Is it edifying? No. Does it teach us that the revenge business isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in the movies? No. Is it even watchable? Well, I did sit through the whole thing … but I didn’t want to.
It has pretty cinematography, pretty Zoe Saldana, pretty much nonstop violence. It’s as subtle and thought-provoking as a blow to the head. And those who opt to see it had best check the floor for brain cells that might’ve trickled out their ears.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.