Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

If you haven’t seen the poster or trailers for this movie, you’ll be shocked to learn that this is no romance. It is, in fact, a kind of espionage thriller from Pierre Morel, director of the mediocrity that was Taken, and headed by a shaven-headed John Travolta who spends much of the film trying to hide his ever-present paunch.

The story, as much as there is one, amounts to some bog standard spy spiel. James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is the personal aide of the US ambassador to France. He is diligent, hard-working, and desperate to be shifted into the secret service. After a successful sortie to bug the office of the French foreign minister, he finally gets his chance. His mission? Collect an agent who is being held up in customs.

This duty is not the glamorous assignment Reece was looking for, and when he encounters agent Charlie Wax, a testosterone-fuelled skin head intent on getting his energy drinks past the border bureaucrats, his heart sinks still further. Little does Reece know that Wax is about to take him on a non-stop thrill tour of the city of love, taking in Chinese coke dealers, impoverished slum gangs, Pakistani terrorists and slick double agents.

At this point you’d be forgiven for losing interest in this list of cliches, but one thing might make you prick up your ears (or rather eyes, I guess) and that is the presence of Luc Besson as co-writer and producer on the project.

Say what you will about Luc Besson, but the man behind the absurd Transporter franchise, the sublime Leon and the ridiculous (and fantastic) Taxi is nothing if not interesting, and his influence is no less evident here. Whilst the plot remains nonsensical and frequently formulaic, it is injected with a kind of insane energy that had my eyes glued to the screen. Like a particularly spectacular car crash, it had the entire audience raptly awaiting its next gruesome twist with morbid curiosity.

I laughed as Charlie Wax declared to a Chinese gangster that he must tell his boss ‘Wax on, Wax off’, winced as he instructed his confused protege to snort cocaine in a busy lift as they rose to the top of the Eiffel Tower, cringed as they mowed down rows of inept terrorist gunmen, and simply stared in stunned disbelief as Wax hung from a car window during a high-speed chase and calmly aimed a bazooka at his dastardly foe. Every scene was horrifically bad… but I still loved every minute.

The best (or worst) part of it all, depending on your perspective, is that this short list I have compiled is in no way a spoiler. These things just kept on coming! It’s a critics dream, the review almost writes itself! There’s more than enough ammo here to fill every page of every major newspaper with bile. But I’d be a liar if I joined the ranks of the moaning majority (65% on Rotten Tomatoes last time I checked).

Perhaps it’s my irrational love for Besson and his audacious approach to filmmaking, maybe I just occasionally need to switch off and tune out, or maybe I secretly love freak shows, public hangings and all other despicable recreational activities beloved by us masochistic minorities. (From the amount of alliteration I’m including here, I may even have developed mild schizophrenia). But regardless of the reason, I came out of the film with a big smile on my face, and I’d suggest any escapists out there would get the same level of glee from this movie.

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It’s stupid, it’s unoriginal, and it makes very little sense. But what it lacks in any normal measure of a good film From Paris With Love more than makes up for with its frenetic pace, never-say-die attitude, and shameless whoring of every cheesy cliche, gag and one-liner in the espionage armoury. I promise that if you watch this you will either love it or hate it, but you won’t be bored. And that should be good enough for any self-respecting cinephile.

From Paris With Love opens March 5th in the U.K.

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This article was first posted on February 22, 2010