Tuesday, August 30, 2011
As Conan the Barbarian represents the nadir of chaos cinema with its unfocused camerawork evoking nothing but a lazy director, Olivier Megaton’s Colombiana represents its potential, finding purpose in the rapid cutting and manic energy that defines the End of Cinema. From the opening in a Latin villa straight out of Walker, Texas Ranger, the film is pure pulp, all stock conventions and guns, and it only builds from there as we tour America’s seediest hotspots. As soon as the bad guys kill our heroine Cataleya’s parents—off-screen and without even a suggestion of the grisliness in this week’s Rolling Stone—we’re off on an adrenaline-fueled chase, fast, focused, and hyperaware. Split-second shots keep everything in mind at once, targeted close-ups distill the movement to its essential components, and the montage casts a team of professional gangsters in a thrilling cat-and-mouse with a comically awesome nine year-old girl. Geography and fluidity are exchanged for hypercontinuity through blazing Colombia, less a place than a legend, and it all announces an exaggerated crime pulp with no time for existential angst.
Which isn’t to say it’s all fun-and-death, but the heavy bits are your basic cycle-of-violence stuff topped with a pitiable portrait of monomania. In 15 years, Cataleya never sways from her revenge mission, and as we prepare for the final showdown, her relationships transform into Achilles heels. All this exposed vulnerability requires its fair share of hand-wringing and worried staring, packing a bit too much fat on the muscular flick’s midsection, but it sure makes its point: Ahab had it better.
Of course, the real point is spectacular action, and Colombiana gets right to it: Zoe Saldana’s entrance opens the film’s untoppable setpiece, a ludicrous ninja number that singlehandedly makes up for Conan. If it weren’t already clear Megaton knows what he’s doing, the match cut from a trash can lid to Saldana slinking her way through an air vent suggests some wit behind that visual bluster. It also introduces the basic feminism of a Salt-style thriller about a woman whose womanhood comes in handy in a society that fails because it underestimates her. A lipstick flower is her calling card, but the cops maintain their mystery killer is a man, a stubborn attitude that Saldana turns into one of the film's best punchlines. Like Angelina Jolie, Zoe Saldana delivers confessions as well as she does concussions, and her charisma is so strong it even subdues the film’s moralistic impulse (though that particular pendulum leads to such exploitative highlights as a closeup as Saldana’s lips twirl a lollipop). But so what? There’s a few laughs, a couple of surprises, and a fat guy walking on a glass sheet across a shark tank. The B-flick is back.