Colombiana (Empire review)

ColumbianaSquareAfter witnessing her parents’ murder, nine-year-old Colombian Cataleya escapes to the United States in the care of her uncle Emilio (Curtis). Fifteen years later, Cataleya (Saldana) works for him as a hitman, while secretly plotting revenge against the gangsters who killed her parents.

Luc Besson, the sizable talent behind Nikita and Léon, has been spreading himself pretty thin since he started writing for other people. Stories and/or scripts for five Taxis, three Transporters, Bandidas, Kiss of the Dragon, District 13, Unleashed and the megahit Taken have all rolled off his typewriter since he directed The Fifth Element – with uneven results. In this, his latest script-for-hire, the opening salvos – the murder of the young protagnist’s parents, and a terrific set-piece in which the grown-up Catelaya kills a drug dealer in a holding cell – serve to demonstrate what Besson and regular co-writer Robert Mark Kamen were aiming for with Colmbiana: a 21st century take on the Nikita/Léon girl-assassin motifs, with Saldana, rail-thin star of the biggest box office hit in history, as the sexy, troubled assassin mixing equal parts of Batman (the offed parents) and Catwoman (the catlike agility). They could hardly have missed the target more spectacularly.

Saldana is not the problem: the title role fits the actress formerly known as Zoe Yadira Zaldaña Nazario almost as perfectly as the Whitney Houston bio-pic that surely lies somewhere in her future. The principal problem is the script, which not only suffers from a complete lack of logic – for instance, if Catelaya’s life was wrecked by heartless killers, why would she grow up to be one, with no care for consequences or collateral damage? – but is so full of coincidences, contrivances and conveniences that you can actually hear Besson and Kamen typing. The second, fatal flaw is that Transporter 3 director Olivier Megaton attacks the material with the subtlety his surname suggests, leading every scene (with that one frustrating exception) to thud to the floor like slabs of meat – sometimes overcooked, sometimes undercooked, always rotten.ColumbianaWide1

As nonsensical characterisation piles on top of far-fetched plotting, the film begins to resemble a low-calibre cross between an episode of J.J. Abrams’ Alias (a sensation enhanced by the presence of Michael Vartan) and an ‘80s-era action movie, but with Rae Dawn Chong or Maria Conchita Alonso in the lead, instead Stallone or Schwarzenegger. It’s actually worse: a Transporter movie minus Jason Statham.

Even the talented Saldana can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, much less a dog’s dinner: one scene aside, the action falls completely flat, and even Vincent ‘Entourage’ Chase’s disastrous Medellin couldn’t have crammed in as many Colombian stereotypes.


About David Hughes: Published Work

Empire and Time Out film critic, screenwriter of award-winning drama "Where the Road Runs Out", and MD of movie marketing agency Synchronicity, and author of books about Kubrick, Lynch and films that were never made.

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