Film Review: Colombiana

Daughter waits years to seek revenge on the gangsters who killed her parents in a business-like showcase for Zoe Saldana.

Another solid action thriller from Luc Besson's EuropaCorp, Colombiana is also a pretty good opportunity for Zoe Saldana, who plays a contract killer out for revenge for the murder of her parents. More somber than most EuropaCorp outings, Colombiana still delivers enough of what fans want to meet its modest box-office expectations.

A long prologue set in Colombia introduces the three key players in the story: crimelord Don Luis (Beto Benites), his henchman Marco (Jordi Molla), and young Cataleya (an impressive Amandla Stenberg), forced on the run when Marco and his men wipe out her family. Cat winds up in Chicago, where her assassin uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis, sporting an unlikely Hispanic accent) reluctantly trains her in his trade.

Fifteen years later, Cat (now played by Saldana) gets herself arrested in Los Angeles in order to pull off a complicated hit inside a police station. This long sequence, full of surveillance monitors, crawling through ductwork, and split-second timing, shows off Saldana at her best: lithe, graceful, and eager to get dirty. (She would have made the perfect Catwoman.)

But the hit also shows how willing the filmmakers are to settle for the easy way out. Nothing in Colombiana feels remotely original, from the initial, unexplained killings to the string of bad supporting actors with indeterminate accents who are periodically shot, knifed, garroted, run over, blown up and eaten alive. Also in evidence is EuropaCorp’s tendency towards sleaze, particularly during a hit on an epicene financier and his bevy of Eurotrash concubines.

Which isn’t to say that Colombiana isn’t a lot of fun to watch. Producer and co-writer (with Robert Mark Kamen) Luc Besson delivers an efficient revenge story with built-in tension, especially once the FBI and CIA get involved. Apart from a middle section that drags, director Olivier Megaton juggles plotlines and special effects adroitly. An opening chase through a Colombian slum and a climactic hand-to-hand combat are satisfying even while they reference other movies.

Lennie James comes off well as a by-the-book agent, while Molla is suitably menacing as the chief bad guy. It’s difficult to judge Saldana’s acting, as she isn’t asked to do much more than don skimpy attire and look tough. She does both splendidly, even while hoisting armaments that in real life outweigh her. But her Cataleya character has the same demeanor whether dancing, stripping, showering or crying—a little more spontaneity would have been welcome, although her fans aren’t likely to object.

Colombiana has more focus than Megaton’s last effort, Transporter 3, but at the expense of that series’ humor and verve. The funniest line here is Marco saying that Cat is as secretive as “a mist under a door” right before she launches a grenade into his headquarters.