Saturday, 17 September 2011

'Colombiana' review:

Before I start the review some blog housekeeping: I'm on holiday for the next week in Barcelona and so I won't be updating anything (here, twitter etc). I have lots of reviews and what-not up at What Culture in the coming days (wisely prepared in advance) so you won't miss me too much if you know where to look. In the meantime, if you're too lazy to look, here is a fawning feature I published today about my love of 'Jurassic Park'.

Our heroine is sexy. She is so sexy in fact that this is her defining character trait and sole redeeming quality. As a result she must be naked in every scene, or at least clad in some kind of skimpy catsuit. Within one barely five minute section of the movie you can see her do a sexy dance as she undresses in her apartment, before we cut to her naked in the shower, then cut to a shot of her polishing the barrel of a gun suggestively whilst sucking on a lollipop. The very next shot is of her aggressively dry-humping a man in his apartment in her lingerie.

This is a typical sequence from 'Colombiana', the hitman movie starring Zoe Saldana, directed by Olivier Megaton ('Transporter 3') and produced/co-written by Luc Besson. Saldana is a Colombian woman who lives to get revenge for the death of her parents at the hands of a stock evil Latino drug lord figure. We see her parents die in an overlong, extremely cumbersome sequence at the start of the film, which takes place in some very clean, colourful favelas and features the parkour stunts now associated with every Besson production since 'Taxi 2' and the 'District-13' films.

Anyway, as a girl Colombiana escapes the fate of her parents, running to America, where she vows revenge and trains as a killer for hire. We then cut to sometime in the future: she is a grown up hitman now and, as luck would have it, the drug mogul is living in the US, being sheltered by the CIA (for some reason). We're told that the lithe assassin has gone on a killing spree of late, killing 23 people to gain the attention of her nemesis, though as this figure increases baddie henchman are never included - because, you know, they're not people apparently, but cattle to be mown down.

Even if you ignore the terrible supporting actors (for whom English is surely not a first language), the bland cinematography (that basks everything in a sickly golden light) and the seen-it-before-done-better actions sequences: it's just a pretty nasty film and not very fun with it, compared to, say, the Besson-produced 'Transporter' series. Our hero is certainly not very nice and neither are the people she works with and purports to love. Yet the kills aren't particularly imaginative or cleverly staged either, borrowing liberally from the language of video games. Even when one villain - who we know is evil because he's fat, decadent and sleeping with big-booed models - is fed to some rubbish CGI sharks, the action fails to register even a raised eyebrow amongst the mediocrity. Even with sharks.

To make matters worse, Megaton (great name by the way) unwisely focusses a lot of time on a romance sub-plot, which whilst crucial for Colombiana's "character" (the tragic, isolated victim of her own revenge obsession) isn't very interesting and slows everything down. The film's misogyny is a similarly big mood killer. If you read physically strong women as strong female characters, then Colombiana is as powerful a female role model as they come. However, her male director/writers/producers have her firmly within their exploitative gaze.

I don't want to be misogynistic myself by implying overt female sexuality is always aimed at men: women enjoy sex and seeing sexy female characters, who can be wish fulfilment figures in the same way many men enjoy Bond. But this is unquestionably one for the lads, with other female characters (like the girl's mother) overshadowed in a film of earnest, inherently wise patriarchs. This is even more of a shame when you consider Besson has written some genuinely strong female characters across his career, from young Natalie Portman's breakout role in 'Leon', to his recent and winsome female Indiana Jones adventure story 'The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec'.

I'll say this for it though: 'Colombiana' has the strength of its convictions, with the film getting the down note finale its self-destructive character deserves.

'Colombiana' is out now and rated '15' by the BBFC.

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