Colombiana - Zoe Saldana
Cataleya Restrepo (Zoe Saldana) © 2011 CTMG

Zoe Saldana is a vengeance-minded, ridiculously resourceful professional assassin named Cataleya in this latest by-the-numbers shoot-’em-up from producer Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp action-film factory. Helmed by Transporter 3 director Olivier Megaton, Colombiana is slickly executed, includes several high-firepower set pieces and is utterly, unrelentingly generic.

Best known as the blue-hued Neytiri in Avatar and the new Uhura in 2009’s Star Trek reboot, Saldana prowls through Colombiana with the usual unsmiling efficiency of your typical traumatized-at-childhood killing machine. She keeps even her naively normal boyfriend Danny (Michael Vartan) at an emotional distance by not telling him her real name, much less letting him know what she does for an unlawful living.

She prefers instead to all but sexually devour Danny on those nights she deigns to stop by the painter’s artfully unkempt studio. The soundtrack music accompanying these would-be erotic encounters is so laughably “porny” it would be nice to think the scenes are supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. How these two got together is an opposites-attract mystery, since she’s such a humorless hardass and he’s needily breakfast-in-bed sensitive.

Colombiana - Poster Zoe Saldana
Poster with Cataleya Restrepo (Zoe Saldana) © 2011 CTMG

In movies like this, the best scenes often are ones that don’t bother with superfluous frills such as dialog or characterization. A jailhouse hit in which Cataleya silently creates a Rube-Goldberg-like contraption with a cup and spoon in order to mission-impossible her way to a target is preposterously unlikely but pretty entertaining. Creeping through air ducts, climbing walls and racing across rooftops in a blue neck-to-ankles leotard that shows off every square inch of her body, Cataleya is a fanboy’s fantasy hybrid of Neytiri and Catwoman.

The first half-hour of the movie sets up Cataleya’s motivation for taking up high-risk homicide as a hobby. When her Bogota, Colombia, home and parents are attacked on the orders of dad’s crimelord boss, schoolgirl-age Cataleya (played with shell-shocked detachment by Amandla Stenberg) makes a daring escape. Since dad knew he was going to be killed, he gave Cataleya evidence he told her she could use as her passport to America. Sure enough, it’s apparently Free Green Card For The Newly Orphaned Day at the US embassy. Next thing you know, Cataleya is touching down at a stateside airport accompanied by a government minder she soon ditches.

The screenplay (by Besson and regular collaborator Robert Mark Kamen) is the kind that requires authorities to be kinda stupid. Nobody figures out that the runaway Cataleya just may be headed to stay with her criminally connected Uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis) in Chicago. Even allowing for the possibility that nobody noticed the piece of paper bearing his address that Cataleya has been carrying, it seems unlikely that no one would be aware Emilio is her next of kin.

It’s not as if Uncle Emilio would be hard to find, either, because the guy doesn’t exactly maintain a low profile. He’s the type of brazen hair-trigger gangster who shoots up a nice neighborhood in broad daylight just to make the point that revenge-minded little Cataleya should get a good education while learning to be a killer. (Don’t ask.)

Fifteen years later, Saldana’s Cataleya has taken out nearly two dozen associates of the top-of-the-food-chain Colombian crime boss responsible for killing her parents. And she’s definitely gunning for number one.

If the name of the movie is intended to indicate that the story is standard nose-candyland stuff, it’s also a tip-off that there’s nothing special here. (Imagine an appraiser examining the film and sniffing, “Here we have a rather typical example of early 21st-century Colombiana.”) But considering that most of the story takes place in America and none of it was shot in Colombia, the title is a strange choice.


In Theatres Friday, August 26, 2011


James Dawson

Jim is Film Review Online's Los Angeles based reviewer.