Studio Name: Lionsgate
MPAA Rating: R
Disc/Transfer Information: 1080p High Definition 2.35:1 Widescreen; Region 1 (U.S.) Release
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (run in 5.1 configuration)
Director: Pierre Morel
Starring Cast: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
While the cover of the Blu-ray box of From Paris with Love boasts a wildly enthusiastic quote about this being the “best Travolta since PULP FICTION,” I just don’t know about that. What’s more interesting – or disturbing, depending on how you look at things – when doing some Travolta comparisons is that his “Charlie Wax” character he plays in this seems to be an elemental copy of the bursting-with-experlatives “Ryder” character he portrayed in the remake of Taking of Pelham 1,2,3. Needless to say, the cursing in this film was too excessive, and it seems to be a level of performance Travolta is comfortable with. Don’t get me wrong – Travolta plays this over-the-top lunatic quite convincingly (think Broken Arrow and Face/Off) outside of duds like The Punisher, but the constant utilization of the “F” word in pictures such as From Paris with Love and Pelham is getting a bit long in the proverbial Travolta tooth as of late. But no matter, you can feel director Pierre Morel’s Taken-like influence all throughout the rather short 90-minute running time of this film, with pretty ham-fisted fight and action sequences and effective slow-mos as Travolta’s Wax character kicks some serious rear end all throughout Paris.
When putting From Paris with Love under a scrutinizing microscope, it almost has a rather cheap, budget-y feel to it, reminding me of the Wes Craven thriller Red Eye. It’s difficult to put into words, but you know the sensation when it hits you. The characterization is on the weak side as well, with a plot that contains too much meandering until it gets to where it needs to be. Jonathan Rhys Meyers portrays James Reece, a personal aide to the U.S. ambassador to France who is moonlighting as a low-level CIA operative, although most of this isn’t made clear in the least bit. His boss, the ambassador, feels he wants to give Reece an opportunity to better himself and his career, so he gives him an assignment which is to partner up with a special CIA agent who’s coming to France on a special assignment, Charlie Wax (Travolta). There is an important connection to Reece’s French fiancé and this entire plot, and I simply cannot give that away if you haven’t seen this yet. Reece goes to French customs to meet and greet Wax, where he finds an animated, cursing, out-of-control Travolta (portraying Wax) demanding his energy drinks be allowed through the customs line. When Reece springs him from the customs waiting area, he discovers, as the two of them drive in Reece’s Cadillac Escalade, why Wax didn’t want customs to see what was inside the cans of his energy drink – this is where Wax stashes his special weaponry. Why a high-level CIA operative had to come through customs to begin with like an ordinary citizen is beyond me and offers an example of yet another mysterious plot hole here, but I suppose one can argue that it was to ensure Travolta’s character’s secret of being a CIA operative.
Travolta plays the wisecracking, cursing and wildly erratic Wax as well as he played Ryder in Pelham, and as I mentioned, the performances are nearly identical. Wax demands Reece take him to a Chinese restaurant that is supposed to have the best chop suey around, and once there, one of the more exciting action setpieces of the film unfolds, where Wax proves through varying usage of his machine guns, how this restaurant is a major cover for a cocaine operation. While it seems it has been made clear to us what Wax is there to do, that is, take down some high-end drug dealers, there’s another angle that makes the plot more head-scratching and tiresome. It seems Wax is also looking for a terrorist cell there in Paris. But the aforementioned Chinese restaurant sequence and others rival the nail-biting hand to hand combat scenes involving a butt-kickin' Liam Neeson in Taken, and in terms of action, From Paris with Love delivers on some fronts.
The remainder of the film tracks Charlie and James partnering up to uncover these terrorist operations in varying parts of the city, but an interesting subplot develops, as I hinted at, involving Reece’s sexy new fiancé and her “best friend” that host a dinner for the men one evening at Reece’s apartment – all I am going to say about that is, these foxy ladies are not what they appear to be.
Although riddled with explosive action sequences and gunfights galore, the pace clip of From Paris with Love still feels a bit rushed and makes the script seem undeveloped in many ways; although the back of the Blu-ray box claims this is a film with a 93 minute run time, the reality is that includes the credit sequence – the film itself clocked in at less than 90 minutes, giving it even more of a Taken-like feel. At the end, this was a decent evening’s rental, but there’s nothing really more to it to give it a better rating; Travolta’s performance, while addicting in certain parts, has been seen and done before and the excessive swearing by all the characters got tiresome. I will discuss this further in the Recommendations and Summary portion.
VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC LOOK?
Lionsgate has been a studio – whether discussing their standard DVD issues or Blu-ray Discs – that has shown a varying degree of quality control; it’s really a hit or miss situation with them. In their defense, this is a production company that isn’t quite as large as, say, Paramount or Warner Bros., but they have certainly come a long way since their inception and now hold several very respected titles under their belts. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much visual eye candy in their 1080p transfer of From Paris with Love for the Blu-ray to elicit any kind of excitement. Probably true to theatrical origins and photographic demands of the filmmakers, the 2.35:1 widescreen image had a foggy, smoky look to it, rendering many of the high definition benefits invisible. Most sequences came off looking soft and flat, but as I stated, I am almost sure this was intended for style – moments of extreme clarity did pop up, such as outdoor sets where facial close-ups of Travolta’s and Meyers’ characters exhibited great detail, or shots of empty Paris streets that brought to the 1080p encode wonderfully realistic detail in the pebbles and cement of the gutters and sidewalks. For the majority of this film’s run time, however, the image simply wasn’t that pretty to look at, reminding me, quite frankly, of an average-to-good DVD transfer.
AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC SOUND?
Likewise for the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack…you know what got under my skin more than anything during the viewing of From Paris with Love in my theater studio? The fact that the trailers on the Blu-ray Disc, played back in lossy Dolby Digital, were tremendously louder, thicker in walloping bass and more dynamic than any part of the actual feature running in Master Audio. I cannot explain this, but my ears confirmed it. The first few ridiculous trailers before the film starts (one involving a stupid Nic Cage film that’s supposed to come out depicting him as a self-made superhero with a bunch of kids doing the same) were accompanied by audio that was simply off the hook – the bass from the Dolby Digital audio during these trailers made my walls shake like almost nothing I’ve experienced from my measly Polk PSW350 sub, and the overall volume levels were ear-shatteringly explosive.
However, when the feature started – encoded as 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio in an English designation but played back as 5.1 in my system – the experience was nowhere near as dramatic or satisfying, and the difference was staggering almost immediately. Volume output of the track dropped significantly, while explosions, gunfire and all action accompaniments were lacking in LFE or tactile effect. This was a real head-shaker, and the only thing I could come up with was that perhaps there were some budgetary restraints that plagued the home video production channels, or that perhaps, as I have suspected in the past but couldn’t verify, because the track needed to be “dumbed down” for my 5.1 array, something happened during this process that softened the audio output. Either way, the mix did not wow me in the least – I needed to crank my master volume up beyond normal listening levels to achieve what I felt was a comfortable area, but this was way different from most other action discs I play in my system. Furthermore, the lack of punch on this track from the plethora of gunfire and shootouts really concerned me. Surround activity was present, but it wasn’t as aggressive as you’d expect from this genre – there was also a strange “closed box” sensation I got from the mix, whereby it seemed the entire track was stuffy and closed-in, as if some kind of audio noise reduction was used squelching the high frequencies. I do not run my system with any equalization nor do I have Audyssey adjusting levels on my AVR, so I couldn’t explain this either except to conclude that it was something baked into the mix.
This was a disappointing audio experience.
BonusView Audio Commentary with Director Pierre Morel
The Making of From Paris with Love
Spies, Spooks and Special Ops: Life Under Cover
Secrets of the Spy Craft: Inside the International Spy Museum
Friend or Foe Trivia Game
Charlie Wax’s Gun Locker Featurette
Lionsgate Live materials
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATIONS:
I wanted to see this theatrically, as so many other films, but because of my hectic schedule, I just couldn’t get a chance to – I was admittingly curious to see what this was all about based on the rather exciting-looking trailers, but upon watching it, there was, as always, just “something missing” that didn’t allow this to stand out as a great action piece. Sure, the action is there – Travolta’s Wax character does indeed wipe the floor with some bad guys and wields guns like you and I change underwear – but the script and overall production values suggest something that wasn’t quite developed through and through, and the technical specifications of the disc which I found lacking didn’t make it any easier.
Definitely a rental, though.