Ever since I saw Sigourney Weaver in Aliens (1986), I’ve waited for great action movies with great action heroines. Aliens is one of the first, if not the first, movies where a woman isn’t there to be saved or protected–she’s there to save and protect. Ripley is right there with John McClane as the best real action hero (amazing thing is, I wrote the sentence before I saw this site). Every time a movie or tv show puts forward an action heroine, she has to be compared with Ripley. To be compared favorably, the heroine must not be objectified.
Don’t get me wrong, I like sexy ladies as much as the next guy. But when they do that little swagger, pump up the cleavage or needlessly undress/take showers, I think we’ve decided that we don’t care about her story, just her body. And that annoys me. Why? Because there’s something different and refreshing about a action heroine, similar to vulnerable action heroes, where we’re seeing something more real and honest than Commando (1985), say. Aliens did it, Haywire (2011) did it, Terminator 2 (1991) did it, did Colombiana (2011)? Almost.
Cataleya Restrepo (Zoe Saldana) hears her family killed when she’s just nine years old. She’s already got the makings of a badass, she just needs some training up. She makes her way to Chicago and tio Emilio (Cliff Curtis), who’s connected. Fast forward and she’s the killer she wants to be, taking out some baddies one at a time to get to her family’s murderers. Then she takes a shower. On her trail is FBI Agent Ross (Lennie James). Oh, and she’s got a squeeze named Danny (Michael Vartan). She wakes up, slides to the edge of the bed, and pulls on her top and runs out the door. Mmm, rib cage. Oh no, Don Louis is on her trail too! Can she kill more people and in more incredible ways? Yes, yes she can.
Colombiana is directed by Olivier Megaton and produced/written by Luc Besson (and others). It’s about a female assassin who wants to avenger her family. Sounds very familiar. And a little familiar. Megaton has clearly been tuteled at the school of Tony Scott. This is all fine. A movie with a familiar story and a familiar look. The question is, did they take it and make something good? Note, I didn’t say fresh and new because those are bogus adjectives–all that matters is “is it good?”
Uhh… Good enough.
Acting par. Directing par. Actioneer comedy above par. That’s odd, because in golf it’s better to be below par than above par–I mean the gooder kind. Acceptable plot to keep our action from the random…par, but just. If you’re going to assassinate people, I feel like the movie has to limit the field for us or open it up entirely. Example: Marco and twenty people are to blame for killing Cata’s family, now she’s killing them one by one and there are only five left. Alternative example: In Bogota, we know everyone in Marco’s gang by the red sashes they wear around their waists, now Cata is going to take them down. Instead, Cata is killing people and painting the orchid for which she is named on all the bodies–there was a scene there that explained all the victims, so that might have answered the question, but I don’t think it did. That’s a recurring problem with Colombiana, bad writing. Luc Besson is French, so I accept that he’s going to be horribly flawed especially when it comes to English expression, but he needs to limit himself even further.
I’m no enemy to the cliché, quite the opposite. A cliché is something familiar, a totem, that we can come to and stay on the same page. Also, in human behavior, there are things that we always feel or do that will necessarily be repeated and to be annoyed when this truth exerts itself is just setting yourself up for malcontent. Still, what we’ve learned is that a clichéd response is allowable so long as it isn’t literally expressed (unless done ironically). You can’t say, “This is my last job” or “I’m getting too old for this!” In this movie, the clichés at play include incredible agility and speed, the ability to fight about 75 pounds above your weight, and the victim that wants revenge so much she puts her family in danger. Eh, I’ll take it. We all know what we’re in for on this movie, don’t we? It’s about action and doesn’t come close to Ripley or Mallory Kane.
Let’s talk a little bit about marketing and titles. There are two sides to a title: interesting punters and expressing the movie. Why is this movie titled Colombiana? Syriana (2005) isn’t about Syria so much as Middle-Easty-Place. This is about a girl from Colombia. Why don’t you just call it “Colombia” or “Catayena”? “Why does anybody do anything?” you ask. “Shut up,” I reply. But Colombiana really just made this movie sound B-grade. It set an expectation that it easily met, while a sharper title may have pulled it up to a B+. The title says what the movie is about and Colombiana doesn’t mean anything. Implication?
Look at the poster I used rather than the one on the dvd (which is what we associate with the movie). Once you see the movie, you’ll realize that if they marketed the movie with the poster above and titled it Catayena, it would set a far more personal tone for the movie. That poster is for a really good movie about pain and revenge and beauty. Maybe that’s why they went the other way.
Wait. Johnny Cash wrote good music? And they wasted it on the last ten second of the movie! Great blistering bollocks, what might have been.