Colombiana (2011)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 8/26/11
Written And Produced By: Luc Besson
Director: Olivier Megaton
Stunt Coordinator: David Belle
Cast: Zoë Saldana, Amandla Stenberg, Jordi Mollà, Lennie James, Cliff Curtis

Prolific Luc Besson revisits familiar ground with this female assassin film, which allows Zoë Saldana to really hone her action persona. Unfortunately, director Olivier Megaton's heavy-handed direction is about as subtle as a sledgehammer, and the film lacks originality and sophistication. I suppose that's one of the pitfalls of making a genre film - you can't stray too far from the formula without alienating your core audience.

As a child, Cataleya (stunning youngster Amandla Stenberg) witnessed the death of her parents at the hands of a South American crime lord. She manages to escape to the United States where she devotes herself to a life of revenge by becoming an assassin with the help of her uncle (Cliff Curtis). Fifteen years later, she catches the attention of the FBI and CIA, and her plans for vengeance start to come together and unravel at the same time. Violence begets violence as she closes in on her ultimate target.

Let's get one thing straight. "Colombiana" is not a good movie, but as a fan of female action cinema, it really hit the spot and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's outrageous and utterly preposterous, but its treatment of adolescent wish fulfillment and female empowerment are things that I crave. Zoë Saldana delivers a strong and convincing physical performance, tempered with a surprising amount of vulnerability and emotional depth. A common theme in female action cinema is that love is a woman's greatest weakness, and here it becomes the catalyst for Cataleya's downfall.

David Belle's stunt choreography is delightful, and there are some nice parkour sequences at the beginning of the film as the young Cataleya tries to escape a band of thugs in the backstreets of a Colombian city. Zoë Saldana handles her action scenes quite well and gets into a nicely staged fight with bad guy Jordi Mollà. Despite the frantic camera work and horrific editing, this sequence still manages to be fairly exciting and delivers a nice dramatic punch. The film isn't shy about going over the top and seems to revel in its own ridiculous implausibility, but to its credit, everyone plays it straight and Saldana's character is never compromised or disrespected. It's their world and their rules, and we're just along for the ride.

I also have to point out the painfully incompetent American marketing campaign for the film, which chose to promote the movie with a picture of a flower instead of using the vastly superior international movie poster. I find it odd that Hollywood often puts images of girls with guns on marketing materials for films that feature neither, while for "Colombiana" - an actual girls with guns action film - they opted for a non-descript flower, as if they were trying to hide what the movie was about. "Gee, we can't let people know there's a kick-ass woman in this film. That's box office poison!" I can't imagine their faulty advertising attracting anyone.

And in the funny credits department: "Ass Catering Coordinator"