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Colombiana

tn_colombianaI can’t claim COLOMBIANA is anything special, because I’m not a fuckin liar. But I enjoyed it as a solid Luc Besson production, a retelling of the good ol’ cliches about elite assassins and avenging the deaths of parents, but with the novelty of an up and coming star we haven’t seen in this type of role before.

It’s a hitwoman movie, but not the post-Tarantino type where you see they’re just like us and watch TV and stuff. It’s the opposite. The one where she’s so driven that she has no real life. Her man friend (Michael Vartan from ROGUE) has to quiz her just to try to get her to say where she’s from. And she won’t say. All we really see about this Cataleya lady outside of her job is that she enjoys dancing by herself and sucking on lollipops. Those are her hobbies. By sheer coincidence those are also the type of things Luc Besson would like to see an attractive actress doing.

But it starts when she’s a ten year old girl (played by rookie child actress Amandla Stenberg) in Colombia and her parents are killed in front of her by drug lords. Normally this would horribly traumatize the kid and years later she’d be a trained fighter. A nice touch here is that she’s already a little badass when it happens. She doesn’t cry, she sits calmly with her father’s betrayer, then stabs him, climbs out the window, does a bunch of acrobatics on the side of the building, and leads the henchmen on a chase across town. There’s a motorcycle involved, a sewer, and of course parkour – remember how in 1992 Colombian druglords always had two parkour guys on the payroll, just in case? It’s not a DISTRICT B13 level of chase scene, but you gotta respect a movie where a little girl leaps over a person while running through a crowded market. Not sure how they did that stunt.

There’s no explanation for how she became so awesome, unless you count that they show her reading a Xena comic book. After making her way to the States she tells her soon to be parental figure/murder mentor (Cliff Curtis from LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD) “I used to want to be like Xena, the warrior princess.”

“Not anymore?” he asks.

“Now I want to be a killer. Can you help?”

“Sure.”

I mean, this is not good that she’s doing this, but more 10 year olds should have this kind of initiative. She knows what she wants to do with her life and she goes after it.

mp_colombianaHalf an hour into the movie it skips ahead 15 years to when she’s a professional, then it takes its time parseling out information about how her operations works and what she’s been up to.

The first hit we see is the one that gets the FBI on her ass. It’s a good sequence although her plan requires two specific jail cells to be connected by vents large enough for her to crawl through. That seems unlikely, in my opinion. I wonder if she knew the ventilation setup in advance, or if she just went in sure she was so awesome she could pull it off no matter what. She’s definitely confident. That’s proven later when she enters the mansion of a Ponzi scheme crook through his shark tank.

Adult Cataleya is played by Zoe Saldana, that crazy blue bitch from AVATAR. She’s very graceful and precise in her movements. She’s also beautiful, and that’s obviously central to the appeal of the movie, so it’s too bad she has the body of a ballet dancer. I’m not saying I disliked the part where she runs around in booty shorts and a tank top trying to escape a SWAT team, but it could’ve used at least 25% more va-va-voom. In fact, I think this character has an eating disorder. She never brags about eating drug kingpins for breakfast, because she doesn’t eat breakfast. She actually tells Vartan that. He also has trouble getting her to eat dinner, she always wants to go right into the sex. When he makes her lunch she leaves. When she’s a kid she knows how to induce vomiting. These are all signs. This girl needs help.

Seriously ladies, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Director Olivier Megaton hasn’t really lived up to his awesome name yet, but I think this is alot more enjoyable than his TRANSPORTER 3. I just think he lacks the sense of fun of a TRANSPORTER 2. This is all very serious like the earlier Besson movies. But it has some good parts and the action is at least readable. I like when the villain is making a Just How Badass Is She? speech and uses the cliche that “she’s like mist,” and right then a fuckin missile flies into the house. Looks like she’s not gonna bothering being a ghost or an invisible ninja this time out, she’s just gonna get right to it PUNISHER WAR ZONE style.

I also gotta give praise to the fight in the bathroom – a home one, not a public one. She utilizes the tub, hand towels, toothbrushes, even the glass he probly uses to rinse out his mouth. No, she doesn’t wash her hands afterwards. So she doesn’t succeed in the hygiene department but she does use the location well.

One criticism of the detective work in this movie: I think maybe you guys took too long to figure out that the rare flower drawn on the victims is THE FUCKING KILLER’S NAME. And that she wears a necklace of it at all times for extra identification. That was not that cryptic of a clue, she’s not the fuckin Zodiac.

I’m not sure about the title of the movie. Is “Colombiana” like “Americana”? Is this saying that vicious drug lords and cold-blooded assassins are a little piece of Colombian culture for us to enjoy? That doesn’t seem right.

Another thing I’m not sure about: there was this rumor that this was re-written from a script that would’ve been a sequel to LEON THE PROFESSIONAL but Besson couldn’t get the rights to it. I don’t know, if they made a sequel and it was just about her getting revenge for Leon’s death that might be fun to watch but I’m not sure it would be worth doing. That story might’ve been made up. Anyway it would’ve been totally different because the villain is pretty standard issue foreign-criminal-who-lives-in-mansion, he has nothing in common with Gary Oldman’s reptilian mega acting pill popper and classic music afficianado.

A buddy of mine that enjoyed this movie okay had a big problem with the ending, so this paragraph is a SPOILER about that. When she gets to the last guy, the big drug lord guy, she doesn’t kill him with her own hands, or even see it with her own eyes. After all that she’s content to trick him into getting into a van where he’ll be eaten by her dogs. My buddy thought that was too impersonal, it was unsatisfying to him and didn’t make sense. But I don’t know, I think it’s kind of fitting. That guy didn’t personally kill her parents, he was responsible but did it from a distance. She treats him the same way. Don’t even give him the satisfaction of being there in person. She misses his death like a movie dad misses his son’s little league game. Sorry, champ. I swear I’ll be there next time.

I don’t know man, I’ll probly forget all about this movie soon, but I enjoyed watching Saldana as Cataleya and at the end of it I was happy for her. I hope now that she straightened that revenge shit out she’ll start eating more healthy. And maybe she can go back to following that dream of being like Xena.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Saturday, December 31st, 2011 at 1:02 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

33 Responses to “Colombiana”

  1. “but it could’ve used at least 25% more va-va-voom.”

    yes, there needs to be more action movies staring women and the women in question need to have more va-va-voom

  2. I agree the prison scene was well done but I found all the other action in this boring. Basically it was typical ore generic action movies Besson produces but doesn’t direct, except not as fun a TRANSPORTERs.

    So I’m a little harder on it than just calling it forgettable. I’d like to see Saldana use her new clout to do something more awesome. Though I guess a Luc Besson production seems like a good idea. I don’t think it did well though so there won’t be a LIVE FREE OR COLOMBIANA.

  3. Btw thanks for keeping up the work over the holidays. Most of us just take off and watch Netflix. You continue to put out quality writing and inspire discussion.

  4. I have to say I’m always surprised Vern didn’t enjoy TRANSPORTER 3. I got a real kick out of it. Admittedly it’s been two and a half years since I saw it, so my memory of it isn’t rock solid. But as luck would have it I wrote a review for it at the time, which I’m going to copy and paste as it explains my enthusiasm quite well:

    “By now everyone must know what the Transporter films are and what they aren’t. I would have to say though, that I found this to be easily the most enjoyable of the trilogy, at least on first viewing. I was grinning ear to ear at times. When I found out the plot featured a wrist device which would explode if it were moved more than a certain distance away from a car I got excited because it set up the potential for all kinds of ridiculous and inventive set pieces. The film only really does one which arises from this situation, which might seem a shame, but that one scene is probably the highlight of the whole series, and the lack of any others is made up for with an awesome wheelie stunt between two trucks. In addition to great action, Transporter 3, while not as overtly goofy as the second film, had some weird humourous touches which I preferred to the mannered hipness of Wanted and the frowny nihilism of Taken. Spoilers will follow, but I’m not sure this puppy can be spoilt.

    At the start Frank reminds his French “boyfriend” (I will get to that later) of that old cliché that the French consider Jerry Lewis to be a genius. Instead of getting offended, the French guy argues that Lewis is a genius. Frank thinks Dean Martin was the real genius, and there follows a debate about who was the real talent of the Martin and Lewis team. Not something I expected to see when I sat down to watch Transporter 3 I have to say.

    There’s a weird streak of very conscious xenophobia in this movie (I’m not sure if Frank’s companion actually thinking Jerry Lewis is a genius counts or not). Frank’s friend says that the Russians are humourless, joyless people, citing War and Peace as sufficient evidence to damn eveyone of this particular nationality. Frank parrots this to the “Transporter girl”, who reacts by pointing out she in Ukranian to which Frank says “ooh, excuse me!” The girl then goes on to prove she isn’t a humourless bore by… taking drugs, listening to techno and drinking Vodka. Those Europeans eh! Does the film being aware of its own xenophobic tendancies excuse them? Probably not, but I laughed I must admit.

    Then there’s everyone’s favourite aspect of the action film; the homoerotic subtext. I heard the director of Transporter 2 decided Frank was actually gay (even though he slept with the girl in the first film), which is why he refused all female advances in the film and seemed to have a boyfriend (the French cop). Well, even though Frank and the cop now share a house, the “Frank is gay” notion kind of goes out the window when he sleeps with the “Transporter girl” in this one. Or does it? He only sleeps with her after a scene where she forces him to deny being gay, and he only kisses her after she demands one in exchange for some car keys. What is more, Frank’s “boyfriend” is clearly jealous of his new found lover throughout the rest of the movie. It’s really cute!

    So I enjoyed it. I would gladly see a Transporter 4, and more importantly the film converted me to the cult of Stathanism in time for The Expendables.”

    Reading that now, I cringe at some of the phraseology and the slight (unintended) air of hipster detatchment, in particular my description of the homoerotic subtext as everyone’s favourite part of action movies, but the point here is sort of to get across why I enjoyed it so much at the time so it would be contrary to edit it.

    Not really interested in COLOMBIANA. Cast Statham in the sequel and we’ll talk.

  5. I really enjoyed this. Mostly because, after watching The Losers, I’m madly in lust with Zoe Saldana. So I got my Saldana fix from this one.

    And while Colombiana wasn’t nearly as much fun as The Losers, I think ol’ Megaton at least gave me reason to look forward to whatever he does next (God knows, Transporter 3 didn’t).

    As for the (SPOILER! WATCH OUT! KA-KA!) ending, I quite liked the idea with the dogs. The only bit that doesn’t make sense is how the guy couldn’t have noticed them in the back of that van. I mean, the way he was driving you would kinda think the dogs would yelp or tell him to slow the fuck down or something. Maybe it just pissed them off more. Anyway, I wouldn’t have shot that scene in a getaway van. Would have been much funnier if he locked himself in a panic room and started having a go at Cataleya through the intercom. Except then she would have had to train her dogs how to get out of that panic room after their meal. Apparently training dogs to open doors isn’t that tough. Not sure about panic room doors, though. I don’t know how those things work.

  6. off-topic, but I’m still pissed at how WB dropped the ball on releasing THE LOSERS.

    Remember kids? It was set for a late spring release, then WB were damn confident enough that they penciled a new date in June: opening same weekend as the A-TEAM. They probably thought Fox would panic and reschedule…instead the opposite happened when Fox called their bluff.

    Which just fucked the movie, dumped in thespring with scant marketing and zero momentum that late in the game. Oh well.

  7. “This is all very serious”

    Yep.
    How serious?
    They use “Hurt”, in the Johnny Cash’ version, for the end credits.
    I mean: if this kind of movie is allowed to use “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, then what about – I don’t know – “Requiem for a dream”? Shall we directly top ourselves off after 15 minutes?
    Seiously, I overall enjoyed the movie, but that choice left me speechless.

  8. From what I remember, THE LOSERS wasn’t exactly a masterpiece though. Or even a good film. So it’s probably for the best that it didn’t do well at the box office so they won’t be wasting Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Zoe Saldana in a bunch of increasingly mediocre sequels.

  9. So true, RRA.

    I remember feeling spoilt for choice that year. Three men-on-a-mission movies in one year (Expendables, A-team and The Losers). The Losers was by far my favourite. Too bad the rest of the world didn’t notice, or care. I would love to see a sequel.

    I’m still kinda hoping that it’ll become a big deal on DVD and Blu ray (kinda like the first Austin Powers did) and that we’ll see The Losers 2 one day, but I doubt it.

  10. Pretty much hated this film, talk about forgettable. The one thing I do remember, for some reason, is the part where Cataleya goes to a lot of trouble to draw a flower on a victim’s chest while he is sleeping, but then drops him in his own shark pool so he get’s eaten. So… she expects the sharks to eat everything but not the piece of skin with the drawing?

    Shit, I remember something else now. Cliff Martinez who keeps telling her that what she is doing is dangerous, that the evil dudes will come after them all. But she just says, fuck that, I’m gonna continue drawing their attention anyway. Which makes the scene later on when she finds her last family members murdered a little less sad, in my opinion.

  11. Cliff Martinez should be Cliff Curtis of course. Don’t know where that came from.

  12. Did you watch DRIVE recently? that’s probably it.

  13. I think I was set against this movie as soon as they showed her being into Xena in 1992 – years before the series even began airing. Pfft!

    I thought this was pretty much Besson by numbers. Sometimes that’s alright, but I wanted more from this. I didn’t think it knew whether or not it wanted to be a serious gritty crime drama or an insane action fest, and I didn’t think it was too good at either angle.

    One thing I really liked about this was Saldana’s performance. She’s not just lovely, she’s a pretty interesting actress. I’d like to see her doing some more challenging work, if she can get it.

  14. Who exactly would there be left to get revenge on in a hypothetical LEON sequel? Wasn’t Oldman blown the fuck up? Who’s that leave? The SWAT team who were just doing their job?
    Agree on THE LOSERS being pretty fun, if having less of a real blockbuster feel than the other Men On A Mission movies that were out that year, but it did have a great cast, and a better main villain than THE EXPENDABLES and A-TEAM.

  15. Stu – there’s the plant.

  16. I agree with Vern that this film was forgettable but fun.

    I have do disagree with you guys about THE LOSERS, it had it moments and it was not unwatchable but I wanted to like it more then I did. I will not bore you guys with with my ramblings on why it disappointed me because I have already done that on this website on a number of occasions, but in general I felt the directing was heavy handed and overshadowed what could have been a really fun movie. However, it is on my list to revisit. Maybe I missed something or I might respond to it differently after a second viewing.

  17. Charles – I thought it was a decent matinee diversion, nothing more. It’s not a controversy to like it or not.

    But it’s definatley better than the A-TEAM. and EXPENDABLES for that matter.

    I know, I’m sorry.

  18. Yeah, I can’t really explain why I like The Losers so much, but I enjoy it immensely and find it incredibly rewatchable. It’s just my kinda big screen B-movie, I guess.

    Kinda curious to find out what Vern will think of it. I have a funny feeling it might start off on the wrong foot with him, since it’s one of those movies that opens with a freeze-frame and title of each member of the team. I know it’s one of his pet hates.

    Still, there’s just something very loveable and wholesome about that team of trained killers.

  19. Knox- And Max and his henchman’s rapor is pretty amusing. Most villain-lieutenant relationships wouldn’t work with the subordinate being so contrary or sarcastic to the boss, but here it’s pretty funny how Max just puts up with it.

  20. Oh and if Vern DID review THE LOSERS as his very next piece, he could have two articles in a row with a thumbnail of Zoe Saldana holding a rocket launcher.

  21. To me, THE LOSERS is to the ‘men-on-a-mission’ genre what the two BOONDOCK SAINTS movies were to the ‘Tarantino-wannabe movie about cool gangsters’ genre. Ok maybe not that bad, let’s say somewhere between THE BOONDOCK SAINTS and SMOKIN ACES.

    It has a few good moments but I don’t know, it’s so smug and obnoxious and trying too hard. It’s re-using a ton of old cliches and fails to make them interesting again because it doesn’t have any real style of its own, it wants to be all show-offy and stuff by copying things that had already been done to death 5-10 years ago. You can kind of tell that if they had had the budget for that, they would have included some type of ‘bullet time’ sequence, like “Hey, you guys loved THE MATRIX right? It’s still cool and edgy to do this in 2010 right? We’re so cool. See, they’re called the Losers, but they’re not losers, they’re so cool and smart and everything, because they do cool shit that you liked in other movies”. Oh yeah and that’s another thing that the movie does too often: explaining its own jokes to the audience.

  22. As someone who has never liked Jason Patric in anything he’s ever done, including his terrible performance in Speed 2, he was great in The Losers as the villain. Its the only thing I’ve ever seen of his where it looked like he was enjoying himself and having fun. The Losers, while not a classic or anything, is a fun and underrated action film with a surprisingly good cast.

    Yes, Zoe is pretty damn beautiful but she could use about 10-15 more pounds on her. Being too skinny in a film is okay if the film in question is something like Black Swan since the role calls for it. I didn’t really understand the too skinny complaints by vern for that one since the movie was about ballerinas. But for a movie like this or Salt, the complaint is justified. Zoe, baby, gain about 10 more pounds. It’ll be ok.

  23. I might defend LOSERS, but its not exactly on the VIP list for the Vern Dream Review Lounge if you get my drift.

    (I thought he already reviewed it? *shrug*)

  24. I think all these Besson produced films are just a bit classier (and pricier) versions of all those assembly line direct-to-video flicks Seagal, Van Damme and others have unfortunately been delegated to churn out. Like with those, there are maybe some neat personal touches and flourishes, but ultimately they are generic as they can get with bad guys with disposable background (drug lords, Russian gangsters etc.), with the same old tired revenge plot lines and the boring quick-cut shootouts and/or fight scenes we’ve seen countless times before.

    Fortunately, Besson’s ace in the hole is getting a classy cast for his projects that make or break the otherwise bog standard filmatism. While COLOMBIANA stumbled with its snoozeworthy tale of revenge as Saldana didn’t bring anything special to the table beyond looking soulfully wounded and pretty, TAKEN was elevated by Liam Neeson’s charisma and curmudgeon-y throat punching. Same with the TRANSPORTER films. I don’t think the films themselves are any good or memorable, but Statham carries to role well and he’s likable, so they end up being enjoyable enough.

    I can see the pattern repeating with Besson’s next production, LOCK OUT (or whatever it will be called). It looks like again a generic and painfully low budget sci-fi actioner in the vein of FORTRESS (or rather FORTRESS 2), but it has the otherwise-way-above-this-kind-of-film Guy Pearce doing – judging from the trailer – a very awesome Joe Hallenbeck impression, so it’s probably going to be all kinds of kick ass.

  25. Just wanted to say Happy New Year to everyone. Thanks for another great year of reviews, Vern, and thanks to you and everyone else on here for the great discussions, laughs, and ideas of WTF proportions. Be safe all of you who aren’t sitting at home tonight!

  26. Geez, I feel like we watched completely different movies, Toxic. Boondock Saints is the kind of movie that completely offends me. It’s exactly what you said: smug and obnoxious (I kinda like Smokin’ Aces, though).

    I didn’t find any of those qualities in The Losers. Quite the opposite, really.

    But hey, it’s cool. You and I made peace a long time ago with the fact that we don’t always see eye to eye. What was it we disagreed on the last time? Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I think. That’s alright, as long as we all love Streets of Fire.

    Shit, my brother came to me the other day and told me that he found The American “pretentious and obnoxious”. He’s a little dead to me now.

  27. Wow, I just realised how bad it looks, me posting at 1:38 am on January the 1st.

    Not true, though. Actually, it’s already 10:45 am here in Cape Town. I’m hung over and you guys are still drunk. Time travel. It’s a bitch.

  28. Gotta jump to the defense of TRANSPORTER 3. Though clearly the lowest budget least stylistic entry, it has dialogue like “I want to feel sex one last time.” that is so batshit crazy I can’t believe they let it in a movie. Probably some lost in translation mistake but t elevated the fun for me, and a few good Statham action scenes.

    I also thought Vern had reviewed THE LOSERS already. I guess that’s how forgettable the movie was, we all imagined what Vern had to say about it and we’re probably right.

  29. Forgettable movie, this. Not a bad effort — I like the energy, but COLOMBIANA is disposable. Shame, since Zoe Saldana is crazy gorgeous and since, IIRC, there was a sequence involving sharks, hot chicks in lingerie pillow-fighting, and an assassination.

    How do those ingredients not add up to something awesome?

  30. You know, I forgot Besson produced TAKEN, and also FROM PARIS WITH LOVE was pretty fun. So actually there are a lot more good Besson produced generic action movies than bad, which makes COLOMBIANA even worse. Hmm, why do I have such a generalization despite all the good crop?

  31. Fred – I liked FROM PARIS WITH LOVE too, if only as a matinee diversion. I don’t actually remember much about it, except it was nice to see Travolta in not a lame lousy picture for once at that time.

    Of course Mr. Majesty, if I remember right, was offended by this opinion. Something about how the movie wasn’t absurd enough for his tastes or something something something in the she moves—

    It did spawn one of the greatest moments of film criticism found at this websight, comparing the movie’s “absurdity” to that awkward uninvited asshole at your party who acts “goofy” by wearing a lampshade over his head and screaming “booga booga!”

    Retying that shit made me laugh again. Thanks Mr. M, you wonderful, slick snobbish bastard.

  32. I completely forgot FROM PARIS WITH LOVE. A really fun movie. Again, not anything special as a film, but made enjoyable by Travolta’s delightfully hammy performance.

    I wonder if my theory of Besson’s production trademark being good/fun actors pulling up otherwise mediocre films will hold true with TAKEN 2. A film not regrettably named TAKEN 2: THE LIMIT, and also directed by Oliver Megaton.

    I think he has two strikes against him with this film and TRANSPORTER 3, so we’ll see if Liam Neeson’s presence alone will elevate the movie to an enjoyable romp of if there is indeed something going on with behind the camera with these Besson productions that contribute to (or detract from) the quality.

  33. Is that screencap of her holding the bazooka actually from this movie or The Losers? Because i don’t remember that shot (there’s a rocket but I don’t think you see her firing it) Anyways, yeah this was pretty forgettable but watchable trash – the only things of interest are: 1) Saldana takes literally 30 minutes to show up, and THEN spends the next 20 minutes or so with her plan to kill the unrelated guy in the police station. Any other movie would have made that the James Bond-ian opening scene and had the child stuff as a flashback. I’m not sure if that makes this interesting or shows how thin the script is. 2) I like how it teases that it’s going to turn into Commando at the end, but there only seems to be like 8 guys and she kills most of them by apparently teleporting over and over again. 3) The special features show that this was filmed in Mexico, Chicago, and PARIS. WTF? (It wasn’t made exactly clear but it seemed like the shark tank scene and the FBI guy’s apartment were shot there). This may be the first time in Hollywood that someone used Paris generically instead of Canada to sub for another city. 4) Saldana says in the Bonus stuff that Besson described the script to her as Leon’s Matilda grown up and become a hitwoman, so I wouldn’t doubt that this was recycled from an abandoned script.

    Also re: The Losers, I probably said this on some other thread, but I saw it around the same time as Push and was really annoyed that two Chris Evans movies ended with basically no resolution while setting up a sequel. At least Capt. America had the good sense to close its main story while setting up another one.

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