As a writer-director, Luc Besson can take credit for two of the greatest “girl-assassin-in-training” flicks ever made (namely Nikita and Léon)… but as a co-writer-producer, he also has to take the blame for sub-par, flashy-but-dumb dreck like Colombiana (2011).
The script supposedly grew out of ideas that Besson was developing for a potential sequel to Léon, centring on Natalie Portman’s character… and while the “heroine” here does share a similar backstory with ‘Mathilda’, she has none of the charm, humour or humanity. The problem, I think, is that we were allowed to meet Mathilda before any serious shit went down, so we could see what she was like before she got hooked on a revenge kick… whereas here we meet the nine-year-old ‘Cataleya’ mere moments before a hit squad arrive to snuff her parents. And as soon as the main henchman appears, post-slaughter, to politely coax a hidden computer chip out of her grasp, she stabs him with a concealed knife, swears revenge on his boss, and leaps through an open window as if she’d been training for that moment her entire life! From her very first scene, she’s depicted as a remorseless killing-machine primed for vengeance, and she never stops running and killing long enough to have a civil conversation with anyone, so it’s impossible to feel any concern or sympathy for her.
It’s equally hard to care about the various family members she loses along the way, because they’re neck-deep in crime and violence themselves… her father was an enforcer for a Colombian drug cartel, and when she eventually tracks down her beloved Uncle in Chicago, he’s busy beating the bejeezus out of some blood-covered dude tied to a chair, and later he shoots up a random car, causing a potentially fatal crash, just to convince her to go to school (!?)… so, forgive me if I don’t shed a tear for their well-deserved deaths. By contrast, Mathilda was never under any illusions about her parents’ culpability, and was only really mourning for her younger brother… an innocent bystander whose murder we can all feel angry about.
That said, Zoe Saldana makes for a very watchable hitwoman, and this movie does function as a pretty effective delivery system for cool-lookin’ kills… assuming you can suspend your disbelief over the blatant stupidity of her targets: “Oh no! My house has been infiltrated by an assassin who’s taken out all of my bodyguards! I’d better go and stand in plain sight, directly over a pool filled with hungry sharks!!” ‘Cuz why would a super-rich criminal with tons of enemies bother investing in a panic room, right? Everyone knows that a swanky shark tank is the safest place to be during a home invasion! Gah!!
Meanwhile, this movie marked the screen debut of Amandla Stenberg, playing the younger version of Cataleya… and it must have been pretty good preparation for her role in The Hunger Games, considering all the running she had to do (though ‘Rue’ was a trillion times more loveable than her character here, of course). Also, my dumb-stick wants me to give a shout-out to Reem Kherici, who plays a shark-taunting “Nymphette”, because… er… hotcha! But clearly Kherici has ambitions beyond playing disposable eye-candy in other people’s movies, because last year she co-wrote/directed/starred in a French comedy of her own, titled Paris à Tout Prix (aka Paris At All Costs). So, snaps to her!