Zoe Saldana has made quite a name for herself over the years. She's been in comedy, drama and action but yet hasn't been able to make herself into that HUGE star. How about an effort to make her that star? That would be an action flick that tries to go for something a tad different with a female lead, 2011's Colombiana.
It's 1992 in Bogota, Colombia and young Cataleya (Amandla Stenberg) is witness to the deaths of her parents. Her father was tied up with a drug lord and had some damning information against him, prompting a hit on both him and his wife at the hands of the drug lord's enforcer, Marco (Jordi Molla). In the aftermath, Cataleya escapes, getting out of the country with some help from American law enforcement and traveling to Chicago where she meets her crime-connected uncle (Cliff Curtis). Even as a young girl she knows what she wants to do. Cataleya wants to be a killer, a hired gun, and Emilio begrudgingly agrees to train her. Some 15 years later, Cataleya (Saldana) has grown into a terrifyingly effective killer. She has turned into a bit of a vigilante, but her sights never change too much. Cataleya intends to exact her revenge on the drug lord and his enforcer, Marco, no matter what it takes or what it costs.
The ingredients were here for a solid movie from the cast to the story to a not so ordinary female lead in an action movie. Yeah, they were here, but in the end they didn't add up to a winner. Director Olivier Megaton (Transporter 2 and 3, Taken 2, soon to be Taken 3) tones down some of his usual over the top schtick in terms of style-heavy action, but working off a script from Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, something is just missing. Lots of good elements -- potentially at least -- that don't quite gel in the end. It received pretty middling to negative reviews and did okay at the worldwide box office, earning about $60 million, but was far from a big success. So what's good? What's bad?
With the Star Trek movies, Avatar, The Losers, Takers, and most recently Guardians of the Galaxy, Zoe Saldana has shown she's a tough actress more than capable of holding her own with a tough guy cast around her. So how about her getting a crack at a lead role? Like most of the characters here, the issues aren't with the acting. It's the script. The Cataleya character is interesting but never developed in truly interesting fashion. Why does she take so long to exact her revenge? Her desire for revenge becomes an obsession but she seems surprised when the drug lord fights back in brutal fashion. Think things through! Now just as an action star, Saldana nails the part. She looks like a stiff wind would knock her over, but my goodness, does she look good dispatching countless nameless henchmen. Saldana is given all sorts of chances to undress, wear tight clothing, wear very little clothing and generally look good doing it. She's got the potential to be an excellent action star if she so chooses.
But what about everyone else? The other characters seem like cardboard cutouts of interesting people. They're ideas of characters more than red-blooded people who...ya know, might actually exist someplace. I love seeing Jordi Molla's name pop up in the credits, and his Marco is a smooth villain but he's simply not around enough to be effective. The same for the drug lord he works for, Don Luis Sandoval (Beto Benites), an under utilized bad guy too. The similarly reliable Curtis is kept in the background, his few scenes with Saldana providing some solid dramatic moments but simply not enough. Michael Vartan is Cataleya's lover, a painter who's curious about this beautiful woman's mysterious qualities, and Lennie James plays the FBI officer trying to track Cataleya down as her kill count piles up. Max Martini plays his assistant and right-hand man.
It's a movie I wanted to like more. The action-packed finale packs a pretty good wallop -- stylish and bloody and slow-motion -- but getting there can be a trip at times. There are too many portions that feel rush and/or disjointed. As well, there are some cringe-worthy moments from young Cataleya turning into a parkour runner and evading an army of drug gunmen to Curtis' Emilio opening fire in public to prove a point and simply walking away as police pull up in force. Say what now?!? It doesn't help that the film is "filmed" in Chicago but the city I grew up in sure looks like Los Angeles, at least a west coast city. It sure had some potential, but it ends up being a disappointment.
Colombiana (2011): **/****