Film Review – Colombiana
The character Xena, Warrior Princess, first appeared on the television show Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, in an episode that aired on March 13, 1995. I’m mentioning this bit of TV trivia because while watching the opening minutes of director Olivier Megaton’s new film Colombiana, I was baffled at how our young heroine, at the age of nine in a scene clearly stated to be set in 1992, could be reading a Xena comic book, and proclaiming that she would like to be like Xena. It bothered me enough that I even indulged in a moment of obnoxiousness, leaning over to my viewing companion to state for the record that Xena wouldn’t have been around until 1995. Okay, mistakes happen in film timelines. I get it. And usually I’m the first to say “let it go.” But in this case, I feared that such a glaring error in an important declarative speech from our main character would be a sign of other script sloppiness to come. Unfortunately, I was just as right about that as I was about the year Xena was created.
In Colombiana, which was also co-written and co-produced by Luc Besson, Zoe Saldana plays the grown Cataleya Restrepo, traumatized by seeing the deaths of her parents at the hands of gangsters when she was a child and hell bent on doing violence ever since. This violence doesn’t only take the form of vengeance, though. With the help of her criminally-connected uncle, Cataleya carries out contract hits, leaving behind her mark, a drawing of the cataleya flower, on the bodies in black lipstick. Now, it’s extremely important in a revenge film that the audience want the character seeking revenge to get it. But for all the emotional set-up in the first part of the film with Cataleya as a child, once the real action starts, we’re 3/4 of the way through the film before we understand how all the contract killing fits in with revenge (and even then, her reasoning and planning are dubious at best). The sympathy the film seems to be asking us to feel for Cataleya doesn’t mesh at all with her cold actions, and even worse, there are no stakes at play in the way they need to be, because she herself refuses to acknowledge them. She still has family members whom she cares about, but she doesn’t believe that anything she’s doing might put them at risk. We know better, and that only adds to the frustration I felt toward her character.
An unnecessary love subplot again provides us with little reason to root for Cataleya. It seems that she pops in on a fellow, Danny (Michael Vartan), whenever she pleases, without announcing arrival or departure. That’s fine, I get it—a girl’s gotta get some play, no matter how many generic crooks there are to assassinate. But we’re meant to believe that there’s a deeper connection there, despite all evidence to the contrary. She keeps disappearing or freaking out and leaving, refuses to tell him anything about herself, and we’re not even sure how they met and started this arrangement. When Danny sits down with his friend to talk about this woman he can’t stop thinking about and supposedly cares for so much, he literally has nothing to say besides what she looks like. He actually tells the friend that she’s 5’6″! Ask yourself whether you’ve ever given a specific height when gushing over someone in that manner. So romantic.
Anyway. There’s some nonsense with cops trying to track down this killer who tags “his” victims (they never consider that it might be a woman—great detective work, boys!), and several unintentional laughs to be had over lucky coincidences and super fancy, near-magical computer equipment on their end. Cataleya kills some people. When we finally get to the third act showdown with the men who killed Cataleya’s parents, it means nothing more than any of the other random kill set pieces we’ve seen, because the film spends no time rationally building to it. And despite how supernaturally badass Cataleya is meant to be, the climactic hand-to-hand fight in a bathroom with creative use of hand towel as weapon felt like it was made by a fanboy director trying to mimic a fight out of a Jason Bourne film.
I understand that the point of this movie is not to be groundbreaking. The point is to show off how Zoe Saldana looks in clothes that leave little to the imagination while she slinks about doing some random things that the filmmakers have deemed to be badass. But people, we must demand more from our films about hot people kicking ass. We must demand coherence. We must demand non-generic adversaries. We must demand protagonists we can give a shit about. I like Zoe Saldana, but we simply cannot support this film, if we ever want anything better. It’s not good.
She sucks on a lollipop while she cleans her gun after a kill, for chrissakes.
Final Grade: D