I find that the good revenge fantasies tend to see the bigger picture. Say you’re an assassin. You have finally killed your targets after devoting your life to hunting them down. Where does that ultimately leave you? By achieving your goal, you have effectively eliminated your purpose in life. The next step would be to figure out whether or not you can assimilate yourself into society and become a functional, law-abiding member. Given how long you have lived on the edge, I find such a prospect highly unlikely. Colombiana, the newest thriller from director Olivier Megaton and co-producer/co-writer Luc Besson, wants us to believe that it intelligently addresses this issue, and I think that’s what bothered me the most about it. Rather than examine the lasting implications of being an assassin, the filmmakers play it safe and go for mindless entertainment – minus the entertainment.
It opens with a prologue sequence I found disturbing. It’s Bogota, Colombia. The year is 1992. A nine-year-old girl named Cataleya (Amandla Stenberg) witnesses her parents being murdered by a ruthless crime lord named Don Luis (Beto Benites) and his henchmen. With stony determination, she vows to take her revenge on Don Luis. Before dying, her father gave her a necklace, an American embassy business card, a chip with information that would allow her to travel to the United States (exactly what that information is, we never find out), and a Chicago address; she swallows the chip and escapes the henchmen by flying out the window and jumping across rooftops and through alleyways like a seasoned professional. After vomiting up the chip and being taken into American custody, she escapes again, takes a bus to Chicago, and uses the address her father gave her to find her uncle, Emilio (Cliff Curtis).
At breakfast the following morning, she decides that her mission in life is to become a killer. In a shocking display of bad mentoring, Emilio decides to help her on her journey. She initially refuses to attend school, claiming that no one there could teach her anything important. An angered Emilio takes his gun – which must have been tucked into his pants even as he was bribing the school principal in her office – and randomly fires at passing cars, causing a scene. Never mind the fact that no one sees him even though he’s in plain sight; he’s trying to make a point to Cataleya, namely that, if she wants to be a killer, she must first understand how people are, and the only way to do that is to go to school like a normal kid. Talk about no child left behind. My God, is this supposed some kind of perverted satire?
Flash forward fifteen years. Now an adult, Cataleya (Zoe Saldana) has become a full-fledged vigilante. Using her impossibly elaborate computer system, info from her uncle, her brains, and her body, she travels the world hunting down and physically marking mobsters who have connections to Don Luis. She’s a master of disguise and as stealthy as a ninja; an intricate sequence near the beginning shows her intentionally getting arrested for driving under the influence, being put in jail, and working her way to a cell holding one of the mobsters. This is the first of many scenes in which Saldana will slink her way through ventilation shafts like a cat on the prowl. It isn’t long before the FBI gets involved, specifically Special Agent Ross (Lennie James), who starts to notice a pattern in the murders.
Apart from the fact that it’s ugly and shockingly casual about its dark subject matter, the film is profoundly implausible. I’ve already hinted at the ease with which Cataleya can infiltrate a building. I now want to discuss Cataleya’s love life. She has a boyfriend named Danny (Michael Vartan), an artist who lives in one of those lofts cluttered with large scale paintings. When she’s with him, she goes by the alias Jennifer. I have to question why she would be with him at all; if she was truly dedicated to being a killer, she would never, ever have allowed herself to fall in love. What amazes me is that this is not the only glaring technicality the filmmakers overlooked. When Cataleya breaks into Ross’ home, for example, she’s level-headed enough to disable all his webcams and attach a pressure-sensitive explosive to his dining room chair. In the presence of Danny, however, she isn’t smart enough to figure out that his iPhone doubles as a camera, and that he might take a picture of her when she least expects it.
I’ve noticed that I respond better to action films that put the hero or heroes in danger. In their vulnerability, they seem more human, and therefore more relatable. The problem with films like Colombiana is that their heroes are so expert that the element of danger is virtually gone. The more I watched Saldana’s character effortlessly carry out her mission, the more I realized how it would turn out. In other words, she was so predictable that I became bored. The only time Cataleya finds herself in danger is near the end of the film, when she gets into a fight with one of Don Luis’ henchmen. Even then, the scene is ruined by the kind of fast, choppy editing you would typically expect from a music video. Almost every shot blurs together to form an indistinct stunt montage. In this visual confusion, the scene still turned out exactly the way I thought it would turn out. So much for surprises.