Colombiana (2011)
By: Stuart Giesel on October 9, 2012 | Comments
Roadshow | Region B | 2.35:1 ,1080p | English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | 107 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Olivier Megaton
Starring: Zoe Saldana, Michael Vartan, Callum Blue, Cliff Curtis
Screenplay: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Country: USA / France
External Links
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I read somewhere that reviewing brilliant movies is easy, and reviewing terrible movies is easy, but reviewing mediocre movies is another story. And damned if that isn't true. I could spout pages on the virtues of Seven Samurai or Jaws or Taxi Driver until my fingers bled all over the keyboard, and I could go on about inept crud like Lust for Vengeance and Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. But something like Colombiana is a trickier proposition. After all, there's nothing especially outstanding about the film - other than some technical aspects - and there's nothing particularly horrible about it either. It's a perfectly serviceable female-fronted action film, but these days that's not enough to make your film stand out.

The plot's your standard "awesome assassin who is so unbelievably brilliant at his/her job but a mess with his/her personal life". In Columbia, a young girl named Cataleya is present when her parents are killed by the goons of a drug lord, Don Luis (Beto Benites). She's given important data on a disc (it looks like a micro SD card but that doesn't gel with the time period) and uses the data to buy her way to America, where she meets up with her uncle (Cliff Curtis) and begins to train as an assassin. The film proper sees Cataleya all grown up, and played by Zoe Saldana, as she goes about exterminating the vermin who comprise Luis' gang. Stupidly, she leaves a calling card at each assassination - a flower that only grows in Columbia - and is tracked by a cop. Because of her secretive nature, she's constantly questioned by her boyfriend Danny (Michael Vartan), who's completely smitten with her but doesn't have a clue what she does for a living.

It's a pretty generic plot, written by Luc Besson and Robert Kamen, which gives director Olivier Megaton the opportunity to stage some decent action, the best of which appears at the start as a young Cataleya escapes from the bad guys through the slums of Bogota which mix a bit of parkour with some Jackie Chan-style stuntwork. This is the highlight of the film, and like Casino Royale the rest of the film suffers as a result of shooting its wad way too early. The rest of the action throughout the film is nicely choreographed, however the action was never the main issue.

Firstly, I have to mention Luc Besson's involvement. Luc, Luc, Luc. What happened to you? Once you were one of the most innovative, exciting directors around with stuff like La Femme Nikita, Leon and The Fifth Element. And then you started producing more than you were directing, and writing generic action scripts, of which Colombiana stands as yet another decidedly average effort. It starts off fine; there are shades of Leon too, with that whole young girl becoming an assassin concept. The problem is that Colombiana has none of Leon's heart or wit or style. Don't get me wrong, what's on offer here is perfectly fine, very good in fact if you're in the mood for some mindless fun. It's excellently shot - the cinematography is superb, and thankfully we get none of that awful "shaky cam" effect that plagues so many modern action/thrillers. The action at play is staged effectively and clearly shot so that we know what's going on - too often modern action films try to amp up the excitement and/or disguise the action (or the actors) with umpteen cuts and shaky camera work. Colombiana probably has a few too many edits for its own good, but this is a problem with almost all modern action films so it's probably not fair to single out Colombiana for this deficiency. The problem is mainly that the script is pretty generic, and it's hard to get swept up in Cataleya's quest for revenge.

Zoe Saldana does well enough in what must have been a physically demanding role, but something feels slightly off. Either the character is so lightweight, or she doesn't quite hit the emotional heights required of the role (or the script never requires it) but she doesn't really connect other than at the basest "hot girl takes out ugly bad guys" level. And, damn girl, you really need to eat a hamburger or something. Wisely, the filmmakers have based her qualities as an assassin predominantly around stealth, intelligence and fast-thinking as opposed to pretending she's some Gina Carano-like fighter being able to take on five wrestler dudes in hand-to-hand combat.

Unfortunately the supporting cast is ho-hum - there's no one who even comes close to being memorable - an hour after I finished watching the film I struggled to recall the faces of the cop or the main bad guy or the bad guy's second-in-command. You know the saying that a film is only as good as its villain? Well, chalk up Colombiana as another victim of an entirely forgettable villain - where are Gary Oldman or Henry Silva when you need them? Michael Vartan's thankless role as a bland artist who struggles to understand his emotionally closed girlfriend sees him simpering and blathering on about how much he loves Cataleya, but you really don't buy the relationship - it seems like all the love is coming from his side, because Saldana plays her character as so emotionally distanced that it's hard to imagine her having fun with anyone who doesn't make people's heads explode for a living. And Vartan's character is so meh that you have to wonder what Cataleya sees in him.

Yes, director Megaton knows how to stage action, and Colombiana delivers that in spades, but watching the film is like viewing one of those interminable cut-scenes in a modern computer game - you don't really care what's happening so long as you aren't involved. And to add insult to injury, the computer stuff in the film is completely ridiculous, even more so than the bullshit in Enemy of the State. When a film goes to great lengths to make sure its weaponry is realistic and the use of said weaponry is accurate, why do the filmmakers skimp on other stuff? Apparently the CIA is able to search a criminal database for a suspect based on one shitty photo taken with a phone and determine Cataleya's identity - thanks to HAND TECHNOLOGY!!! - and base an entire operation on said photo. Jesus Christ, with that sort of technology you'd think the U.S. would have their entire criminal population in the slammer right this minute. And when the cop tries to access a forbidden file, we have a massive "ACCESS DENIED" sign pop up on the screen like some sort of hideous porn pop-up. The systems the cops use look like sci-fi interfaces out of Minority Report - doesn't anyone use a Windows or Apple or Unix operating system in movies? And beyond the computer stuff, there's a whole lot of problems with the logic of the film when you start to think about it, like Cataleya's assassination at the beginning in the police station, where she pretends to be drunk so she can be locked up for the night in the same station as where her target is, and is somehow able to smuggle in blades and a figure-hugging catsuit and then proceed to...ah, to hell with it. I know, it's all about the action, not the plot, not the emotional engagement, not the deep and meaningful characters.

In short, Colombiana is sufficient entertainment for the undemanding viewer who wants to see a hot girl kill off bad guys with style. Like the Resident Evil, Underworld and Tomb Raider series, the main action heroine is better than the films deserve. Colombiana has some solid, well-designed action and is beautiful to look at, but is as emotionally engaging as foot disease. Watch it on a beer and pizza night.
Colombiana's picture quality on Blu-Ray is breathtaking. The level of detail is incredible - just check out the individual dust motes as they float in the light shining through the window in the Columbia scenes. The colour is very earthy, rich and deep. The film might be weak in some areas, but the cinematography sure as hell isn't. There isn't a flaw to be seen, other than in the weathered faces of the bad guys. This is superb stuff.
The DTS 5.1 audio track isn't quite as striking as the picture, but with the sound cranked up it's pretty ear-splitting stuff. Given the nature of the material, Colombiana's audio track pumps up the action to sufficiently deafening levels - the gunfire, explosions and meaty thwacks of every punch and kick do their damndest to test the limits of your sound system.
Extra Features
The Blu-Ray comes with a Digital Copy in case you wanted to watch the same film with inferior sound and picture quality, as you do. The only feature on the disc is The Making of Colombiana which is a pretty solid behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, containing interviews with crew and actors. It's not earth-shattering stuff, but for fans of the film the feature gives you a good look at how they staged some of the action and Saldana's fighting and weapons training.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Colombiana is a generic action film that hopes to sell itself on the premise of Zoe Saldana kicking, shooting and blasting bad guys to kingdom come. There's some nicely staged action that's easy to follow and fairly entertaining if you're in the right mood, but don't expect any emotional involvement whatsoever, and certainly don't go in expecting anything in Leon's league. The Blu-Ray provides outstanding video and audio, so if you must watch it be sure to go hi-def.

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