Fair warning: Colombiana is not as badass as the trailers make it out to be. This is extremely unfortunate for a variety of reasons, the most important being that Zoe Saldana deserves so much better for her first leading role. Zaldana, who has given strong supporting performances going all the way back to Center Stage, is one of the most reliable actors working today and though her work in Colombiana is solid it can’t save the movie which is riddled with flaws.
The biggest challenge facing the production is the fact that filmmaker Luc Besson is one of the writers attached to a project which is almost identical to his own 1994 film Leon: The Professional. Rumor is that director Olivier Megaton (greatest last name in cinema) took on Colombiana to film it as a kind of sequel to The Professional which would have been a terrific plan. Unfortunately, what ended up being filmed is more of a rip off of Besson’s film than anything else.
The film opens in Colombia which is both beautiful and overrun with slums. A young girl named Cataleya watches her parents get killed right in front of her and is almost frozen in shock. To be fair, her father was a gangland lieutenant of some sort and her mother was obviously complicit with his criminal activity. Cataleya escapes the murderers and manages to find passage to the United States thanks to some very important information her father had in his possession.
Cataleya is reunited with her uncle (Cliff Curtis) in Chicago, who is also a criminal, and tells him she wants to learn to kill so that she can one day kill Don Luis (Beto Benites), the man who ordered that her parents be killed. Over the next 15 years, Cataleya becomes an extremely talented assassin, but her attempts to send a message to Don Luis through her victims becomes more successful than she could have imagined.
Saldana is terrific as Cataleya. Not only is she physically believable as a trained killer, she also gives an emotionally conflicted performance which is one of her best. There has been a great tradition of female ass-kickers in cinema from Ripley to The Bride, and Cataleya (a beautiful name) might have been able to rise to that level of iconic status, but Saldana is essentially the only piece of the machine which works.
Director Megaton, who directed Transporter 3 to give you a sense of his background, tries his hardest to craft a compelling action movie, but falters under the myriad filmmakers he is trying to imitate. He can’t decide if he wants to be Tony Scott or John Woo, neither of whose styles he is able to successfully employ. Megaton could be a decent director down the road, but he seems completely overwhelmed here.
The script is perhaps the most surprisingly disappointing aspect of the movie. Besson and co-writer Robert Mark Kamen have worked together on films like The Professional, The Fifth Element and Taken, none of which suffer from the stilted dialogue which infects Colombiana. The characters deliver some of the blandest and most unrealistic lines ever written for the screen. It’s a mystery how two talented writers such as Besson and Kamen were able to sink to this level of schlock.
Colombiana is not the summer action picture you were hoping for. Though Saldana is wonderful and perfect for this character, the movie itself is a underwhelming mess.
This film is rated PG-13 and runs 107 minutes.