COLOMBIANA – Not Even For Free:  Even the Body Count Is Dull
For a movie from the Luc Besson House of Action, COLOMBIANA is surprisingly listless and dispirited.  Besson first came to prominence as a director, with pictures like Subway and The Big Blue to his credit; then in 1990, he hit the jackpot with La Femme Nikita, which not only became a genre unto itself (spawning a US remake and at least 2 TV series), but led to Besson’s far more profitable career as a producer.  His EuropaCorp is behind over 100 movies, including such hits as the Transporter series, Taken, and District B13, which reliably combine reasonable budgets, high-octane action and international elements for fairly consistent global success.  (As a director, Besson’s work is more wide-ranging, and includes action pictures like The Professional and The Fifth Element, the black-and-white art film Angel A, the family animations of the Arthur series, and historical epics like the Joan of Arc flop The Messenger; his latest film The Lady, a 2 1/2 hour biography of Burmese political activist Aung San Suu-Kyi, premieres at the Toronto Film Festival next month.)

Colombiana fits comfortably within the EuropaCorp subgenre of trained-assassin-seeks-revenge (aka This Time It’s Personal), but there’s something off about it.  The picture gets off to a good start, with 9 year old Cataleya (played by Amandia Stenberg; her character is named after an orchid that figures into the plot) enduring the sight of her parents killed before her eyes by evil Marco (Jordi Molla).  She makes a fairly dazzling escape laced with parkour stuntwork, and calmly, singlemindedly, does whatever it takes to make her way to the US and her gangster uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis).  Then 15 years pass, and Cataleya grows up into the unexpectedly dull Zoe Saldana, who looks amazing–although so thin that one wants to see her eat a pizza or a Ring Ding–but hasn’t the faintest whiff of a personality beyond the grim, dogged desire to avenge her family.  (Deadpan humor, a quality Saldana seems to lack, is an underrated asset in this violent genre; one of the reasons people like Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Jason Statham–not to mention Angelina Jolie–have done so well over the years is that they carry a self-mocking air with them into battle.)
The movie’s plot (the script is by Besson and longtime collaborator Robert Mark Kamen) is both overcomplicated and nonsensical:  it assumes that even though Cataleya’s enemies have been moved to the US by the CIA, the most efficient way for her to track them down is to become a professional hitwoman and slaughter dozens of people they know in addition to the hits she’s hired to do.  The murders, too, are overelaborate, with killings by pet shark and slithery intrusions via heating duct. (Can we have a moratorium on the heating duct route into impossible-to-enter locations, by the way?  Die Hard was 23 years ago, and the device is officially tired.)  Meanwhile, on the off-days when she isn’t killing people, Catalaya has an excruciatingly boring romance with Danny (Michael Vartan), a sensitive aspiring artist–of course–who isn’t allowed to ask her any questions about herself.
After that first burst of action, the movie doesn’t liven up again until its last reel, when Cataleya finally finds the villains who killed her family.  She has an exciting, Bourne-influenced fight with Marco at close quarters that gets the pulse racing for a bit, but even then the picture follows it by dispatching another foe with a lazy and contrived call-back to a gag from earlier in the movie, and then it still won’t roll end credits until we have to suffer through another Vartan scene.
Colombiana was directed by Olivier Megaton (the name is a nom de film), who previously helmed Transporter 3 for Europa; although he handles the set-piece action sequences well enough, he doesn’t race quickly enough through the storyline, unwisely allowing us to register its silliness and the flatness of the dialogue; aside from Curtis and Lennie James as a canny FBI agent, he doesn’t get much from the actors, either.
We don’t expect much from a movie like Colombiana, but a fast pace and a likable lead are indispensable.  Colombiana doesn’t have either of these, and despite the high body count, it’s mostly a yawn.  Without a doubt, though, Luc Besson and his EuropaCorp assembly line are already busily churning out next year’s product to lure our ticket dollars.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."