If you’re watching a movie about a woman disillusioned with society and relationships carrying a gigantic semi-automatic weapon in her hand, chances are that writer/director/Frenchman Luc Besson is involved. He wrote this film, which you can see coming from a mile away. His movies involve a lot of mesmerizing violence, but with every film, the power and quality of the dialogue has self-destructed. Colombiana satisfies on an "It’s cool to watch a hot chick using a firearm" level, but left me craving substance. It's like when I choose to eat frozen yogurt for dinner and end up with a tummy ache, groaning about how I should have made smarter choices.
Zoe Saldana, who is best known for playing Neytiri in Avatar and Uhura in the Star Trek reboot, keeps it lanky and lean in this movie as Cataleya, a woman on a deadly mission. She's not a spy or a heartless thug--she is out to avenge the death of her parents who were murdered in front of her by a really, really bad guy of vague criminal association. She leaves Colombia and goes to live with her uncle (Cliff Curtis) in America, who persuades her to attend school by pulling out a gun bigger than a loaf of French bread and shooting a car. Apparently that kind of logic makes sense to an emotionally traumatized kid from a foreign country, and Cataleya educates herself and becomes a smart, sexy, all-grown-up killing machine.
The movie is like a lady who can't choose between two suitors: the campy and fun one, or the serious and cliché one. Mostly, Colombiana chooses the latter while lightly flirting with camp, so by the end I was practically screaming "Just PICK ONE ALREADY." All of the scenes are familiar because many screenwriters (Besson included) have written them before--for instance, the child expresses her desire to kill everyone associated with her parents' murder, and her mentor is reluctant. The deadly female has trouble connecting with men romantically (sometimes because she is going to kill them soon, although Michael Vartan fares well in this particular instance). The FBI agent (Lennie James) softens when he learns what the real motives for the murders are…etcetera. But then weird things pop up, like Saldana attempting to connect with Vartan by giving him an alligator stuffed animal with no explanation, or a silly fake newspaper headline when a man is killed ("Sharks eat Shark"). If the movie had pushed these oddball things a little further, it would have been one of the most fun shoot ‘em ups of the year.
The action is definitely fun to watch, as is customary for both Besson and director Olivier Megaton (who changed his name to honor the 20th anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb drop, but since he's a white guy, I don't know if he is for it or against it). Saldana is a great choice for a badass shadow of a killer, because she has everything it takes for a woman to make it in the contract killer industry. She is gorgeous, as I have mentioned two other times, but also completely believable as a physical powerhouse. I loved her quiet, simmering anger and sad solitude. I also enjoyed the actress playing Cataleya as a child, Amandla Stenberg. Although her accent was questionable, I am excited to see her in the Hunger Games next year, because this movie demonstrates that she can both handle weapons and scenes with emotional impact.