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Luc Besson has made a depressing habit of writing and producing interchangeable action films for way too long now. I haven’t found anything interesting about his productions since Danny the Dog ( Unleashed), and I’m no longer willing to excuse these utterly mediocre films on the minor merit of a handful of good performances. Besson has the influence and cash to take risks with unique films (like Nil by Mouth and a handful of other films he’s lent his credibility to between mediocrities) that don’t fit so snuggly into the template he already designated for himself back when he directed good films. Colombiana doesn’t just represent another entry in the seemingly never ending thread of mediocre shoot ‘em ups, it represents his refusal to fully commit either way in regards to revisiting his earlier successes, namely La Femme Nakita and Leon: The Professional. Fans have been clamoring for an official sequel to Leon forever now (it’s been so long I’m not sure I care anymore personally), and for whatever reason Besson lost his nerve (probably disinterest on Nathalie Portman’s part), and restructured the Leon sequel script with Robert Mark Kamen to create something entirely generic outside of its passing reference to Latin culture. I can’t imagine that even the die-hard fans were particularly happy with the final result.

Colombiana: Unrated
Story-wise Colombiana is exactly the kind of interchangeable/predictable mish-mash I assumed it would be. It’s obvious that this started as a sequel to Leon, and the changes made to set it apart have been snagged from classic sources, as well as Tarantino’s ode-du-revenge Kill Bill, not to mention how much it has in common with DC Comic’s Huntress’ origin story (or at least one of her several origin stories). Zoë Saldana plays an adult Cataleya Restrepo, who as a child watched both her gangster parents murdered by an evil Columbian drug lord Don Luis’ (Beto Benites) minions, including stone cold killer Marco (Jordi Mollà). After escaping certain death, Cataleya takes a trip to Chicago, where she’s raised by her criminal uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis) to be a stone cold killer herself. Bloody vengeance, and not much else, ensues.

Besides the lack of novelty, there’s also a startling lack of sense in Colombiana. It’s easy enough to suspend one’s disbelief when it comes to B-action, but there are dumbfounding lapses in logic, especially during the rushed first act. For example, during pursuit Marco demands that his thugs take Cataleya alive, only to unload a clip in her general direction a few minutes later. Then Uncle Emilio randomly shoots up a car in front of a busy elementary school to prove a point to little Cataleya about…um…violence? The less said about the manner that the FBI stumbles into Cataleya’s identity later in the film, the better. This all adds up to zero emotional involvement with the characters besides what the actors bring to the table, and a rather wearisome plot line. As per the norm casting remains Besson’s strongest asset and despite very weak characterizations, most of the cast brings at least an iota of charm to the table. Cliff Curtis and Lennie James are the only elements that feel entirely wasted, but I’m also generally disappointed by Saldana, who really needs to step up in terms of her choices following well earned accolades for Star Trek and Avatar. Cataleya is less a character and more of a sex symbol. A really skinny sex symbol, in a really bad mood. I’m sure in better/more thoughtful hands this killer doll angle would be appropriately exploited, but here Saldana comes across as generally boring – especially her time-wasting romance with Michael Vartan.

Colombiana: Unrated
Most of Besson’s lasting fans probably won’t care about the lack of story intrigue, and will be much more curious about the scope of director Olivier Megaton’s action chops. Megaton has obvious talent, and fills out his quota of sweeping establishing shots, graceful ass shots, and frenetic action like a true-blue Besson Machine cog, but I can’t imagine him transcending the Machine anytime soon (his next film is a sequel to the bizarrely beloved Taken). The action is properly staged, but massively over-cut to the point of nonsense. It appears there is tangible geography to the set-ups, but Megaton and editor Camille Delamarre kill the rhythm over and over again with dizzying angle changes. The bigger issue outside the chaotic editing, which does, on occasion, create a sense of intensity, is the fact that we’ve seen all of this stuff before – in other Luc Besson productions. The first real action scene we get is yet another foot chase across a Latin American slum’s rooftops, and from here things follow a similarly predictable trajectory. The climax falls to the usual folly of excessive slo-mo, and steals intermittently from The Matrix and The Bourne Ultimatum (points for a cool final blow, however). I have not seen the original theatrical cut of the film, which was rated (as I understand) a rather rough PG-13. This unrated version seems too bloody for PG-13, but isn’t excessively R-rated either. I assume that the film was made with the PG-13 in mind, and simply trimmed a few frames here and there when they pushed the rating too far.

Colombiana: Unrated

Video


Colombiana comes to Blu-ray in full 1080p HD video, and is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen. Director Olivier Megaton and cinematographer Romain Lacourbas shot this film using traditional 35mm film, and in general embraces the format’s grittier nature. The colour palette is made up largely of bright, harsh yellows, offset by cool greens and light blues (inside/night is blue/green, outside/day is yellow/orange). Yes, generally speaking, this is yet another case of orange and teal digital grading overuse, but it looks pretty good. The red highlights are also perfectly clear, without any noticeable low-level noise or blocking. Contrast levels are quite impressive, especially the bottomless, mostly consistent blacks, though the whites are so blown-out the edges on the details in daylight sequences tend to disappear into a fog. The darkest sequences show a lot more grain, but it remains consistent and never shows major signs of compression. Details are uniformly pretty sharp, though the stylistic choices (blown-out whites, heavy blacks, shallow focus) keep it from being ‘top of the pops’ great. Edge enhancement isn’t an issue, but there are occasional shimmering effects in wide-angle cityscapes.

Audio


This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is about as heavily stylized as one would expect from a Besson produced/Megaton directed motion picture. One might even say that the sound design, though not particularly original, is the film’s strongest consistent element. Following a surprisingly stoic shootout, the films first chase kicks into gear, complete with aggressive musical score, trampling footsteps, breaking wood, revving motorcycle engines, and generic/abstract camera ‘whoosh’ sounds. This sequence features big dynamic range and plenty of directional support. Later the designers show off their more subtle talents as Saldana sneaks about a police station triggering subtle noises, which cut nicely against more throbby, LFE heavy music. The rest of the mix follows this lead, and is spiked by a few large-scale explosions and a rather noisy climatic battle. Nathaniel Méchaly’s score is actually quite good, surprisingly enough. There aren’t many hummable bars, and the non-action cues verge on sappy, but the more boisterous stuff has a strong and unique quality.

Colombiana: Unrated

Extras


The fluffy extras start Colombiana: The Making Of (25:00, HD). This relatively informative EPK features interviews with director Olivier Megaton, stunt coordinator Michel Julienne, actors Amandla Stenberg, Zoe Saldana and Michael Vartan, stuntman Christophe Roblin, and cinematographer Romain Lacourbas, and covers the various locations the production utilized, along with stunts, story elements, characters, weapons training, Megaton’s direction, and features some rehearsal footage and storyboards. Cataleya’s Journey (9:30, HD) features Megaton, Saldana, Lennie James, Jesse Borrego, and Stenberg talking up the character and performances. It includes some of the same footage seen on the previous EPK. Assassins (11:50, HD) is really more of the same, featuring the same interview subjects against the same backdrops, with more focus on the cast overall. Training a Killer (6:00, HD) is, again, more of the same, with focus placed on the fight styles used in the film. Take the Ride (7:50, HD) finishes the EPKs off with even more of the same, and a re-jiggered focus onto the international cast and crew. The disc also features trailers for Sony releases.

Colombiana: Unrated

Overall


Colombiana threatens to come together in the third act by presenting a somewhat novel twist on the usual vigilante/cop team-up and upping the stakes, but the lack of compelling characters and the dulled bite of an intended PG-13 rating keep things at a thoroughly mediocre level. The heavily stylized photography looks as sharp, vibrant, and grainy as intended, the DTS-HD audio track is superb, and the extras are a repetitive bore.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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