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'Columbiana' Review: Bold, Undiluted Trash


There’s been the usual ration of trashy films this summer–Green Lantern and Cowboys & Aliens limp instantly to mind–and now, at the gasping end of August, we have Colombiana, which is pure trash, boldly undiluted. The movie is genre action at its most generic, a thick pudding of all the usual rooftop chases, martial-artsy slap-ups, and improbably huge weaponry. And with the minimally expressive Zoe Saldana cast as the picture’s improbable thug-whomper, it’s a more than usually tedious exercise. But writer-producer Luc Besson and his directorial protégé, the deliciously monikered Olivier Megaton, clearly have their eyes on the international action market, and by now only a fool would question their expertise.


The story begins in 1992, in the Colombian drug capital of Bogotá, with a desperate gangster being mowed down by rival mobsters at the behest of a crime lord named Don Luis (Beto Benites). Present at this bullet-riddled scene is the gangster’s daughter, Cataleya (precociously well-played by Amadla Stenberg), who appears to be about 12 years old. She is clutching a period ROM cartridge and a safe-haven address in the States passed on by her father before he met his bloody end. After escaping a herd of heavily armed bad guys across the aforementioned rooftops, Cataleya makes her way to an intel officer at the local U.S. embassy, turns over the computer cartridge–which is loaded with international-crime info–and is put on a plane to Miami for further CIA examination. Upon arrival, though, she slips away from her Agency minder and hops a bus to Chicago, where she finds refuge with her Uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis, occasionally channeling Tony Montana), who is likewise a gangster. She tells Emilio she wants to become a killer, and eventually hunt down Don Luis. Okay, why not.

Cataleya quickly sprouts into Saldana, whose performance inclines heavily toward introspective brooding and standard dead-eyed menace. Under Emilio’s tutelage, the girl has in fact become a rub-out specialist, and over the course of several assignments we see her terminating a succession of Don Luis’ scumbags in the usual madly inventive ways. (The most interesting is a complicated jailhouse take-down involving a crucial coffee spoon and the sudden appearance of a sleek catsuit.) Before long, Don Luis begins to divine Cataleya’s lethal objective, which sets up an ultimate confrontation heavy with inevitability. All of this despite the best efforts of a dogged FBI agent (Lennie James) to bring Cataleya to justice, and the devotion of a largely irrelevant boyfriend (Michael Vartan) who adores this mysterious woman without knowing a single thing about her.

Full review and a review of Our Idiot Brother here.

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