RUNNING TIME:103 mins
DISTRIBUTED BY:Entertainment Film Distributors
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In Bogota, Columbia, the parents of nine year old Cataleya are killed during a drug feud, but the girl escapes after swallowing a certain microchip. After a lengthy chase she get to the US embassy where, in exchange for throwing up the microchip, she is taken to Miami by a CIA agent, but also escapes from him and gets a bus ticket for Chicago, where her father had told her to go. She finds her uncle Fabio and asks him to train her to be a killer. Against his misgivings, he agrees. Many years later, a series of killings starts to occur which puzzle the police, killings that are of Columbian gangsters………..
I’m very fond of the majority of the output of EuropaCorp, the company set up by Luc Besson to primarily make films like the Transporter and Taxi movies, Taken and Unleashed. These movies might be silly and modestly budgeted but are immense fun and have a certain style and feel to them that to me makes them more entertaining than many comparable action movies from the US. The latest one to roll off the EuropaCorp production line is Columbiana, and as usual is written by Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. Columbiana seems to have mainly gotten bad reviews and some bad press, with the organisation Por Columbia criticising the movie because it “provides no context of the real roots of the Colombian conflict, and shows a true lack of creativity…the producers have no idea and no cultural awareness.” Star Zoe Saldana bravely spoke out at such over the top political correctness [the same over the top political correctness that said Taken was anti-French] and has in turn been savaged for it. Columbiana is a bit reminiscent of La Femme Nikita and Leon, and is certainly not of the quality of those two great films, but it is a fairly good dumb action movie, pretty much what you would expect from EuropaCorp, though lacking the usual humour. It sometimes tries to be more though and doesn’t quite succeed.
The opening is very strong, and almost overshadows the rest of the picture. After a few scenes setting up the conflict, Cataleya’s parents are murdered, an act which we don’t see. Instead we focus on the poor girl’s face as she watches in horror, and it’s far more disturbing. Then one guy tries to sweet talk her and she impales his hand with a knife to the table, then performs an incredible escape involving some parkour [acrobatic free- running], something that is becoming quite common in these movies and something which frankly I never get tired of watching! She is chased all over the place by motorbikes and cars before eventually escaping into a sewer. After this, we have only have a few more scenes with her as a child before we flash forward some years and see her perform an especially skilled hit. It involves her posing as a drunk so she can get put into a holding cell near where her target is, escaping from her cell, knocking out the electricity with a spoon and water, climbing into an air duct, knocking out the target’s guard, shooting him, then escaping back into her cell…. with nobody knowing. Yes ladies and gentlemen it’s that sort of movie, and you just have to go with it and totally suspend disbelief, otherwise you probably won’t enjoy it much at all. The action then takes a back seat for a while as the plot brings in some added elements, none original ,including the FBI closing in on Cataleya and a love interest for her, but returns towards the end with a average gun battle and a cracking hand to hand brawl that reminded me of the great fight in The Bourne Ultimatum and makes me wish there had been more fighting in the film.
Of course the action is all done with the obligatory close ups and quick cuts, many of which just don’t seem to match, and director Oliver Megaton’s [maybe he should be directing the next Transformers outing?] constant employment of this style is one of the things that for me made Transporter 3 the worst of those movies. A shame he is doing the sequel to Taken next, which for me remains one of the best of the EuropaCorp films. Saldana looks totally convincing though as a sort of combination of Salt and Nikita, and she really is good in the role, very believable as a vengeance-wrecking killer and subtly suggesting the vestiges of humanity deep within her with just a look. Occasionally the script gives her the odd moment of happiness or freedom, such as having her dance alone to possibly celebrate having successfully carried out another hit and possibly as a moment of escaping from her violent life. I normally hate it when movie characters start throwing shapes on their own [aka Hugh Grant in Love Actually ], but it works well here. I would have actually liked it if Columbiana had been a bit longer and spent a bit of time taking us further into the character and mind of Cataleya, because very occasionally the film does seem to start doing that and then gives up. I did like the way her relationship with her lover Danny [whom she is using for a ‘no strings attached’ sexual relationship but who wants to find out more about her] developed, and it climaxes in a scene at the end which is very touching, something you may find very surprising in a film like this!
Aside from Saldana, who really deserves a lot more credit for her performance than she has been given, I was impressed by Cliff Curtis as Cataleya’s uncle Emilio, who is bravely introduced to us beating the crap out of somebody tied to a chair; like Saldana, he attempts, though is given even less opportunity to, some depth to his character. There is a fine score by Nathaniel Mechaly, sometimes very emotive at times. At the end of the day I thoroughly enjoyed Columbiana while I was watching it, and some might say that’s enough for a movie. Afterwards though, I felt a little unsatisfied, not so much by the many silly elements [you may find it hard not to laugh during a scene near the end involving two dogs in a van], but because the movie sets up this fascinating character and doesn’t do much with her, except have her jump around doing cool stuff, and she doesn’t even kick arse quite often enough for my taste. Still, if you like your revenge flicks, you can do a whole lot worse. Ignore the stuffy critics, most of whom look down on certain genres like action and horror anyway, and enjoy.