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.
The movie is a fiesta of implausibilities. Is it really possible to get away with being fingerprinted by police without their noticing the special latex gloves you're wearing to frustrate identification? Has anyone ever actually stabbed an attacker with a pistol magazine? And how likely is it that someone could swim through a pool patrolled by sharks (a strained Thunderball lift) without drawing even the casual attention of said predators? I don't know, and I doubt the filmmakers even cared. This heedless mediocrity muffles our engagement with the story—or it muffled mine. But the pure-action audience at whom the film is aimed might not care. In the end, I suspect, the box-office judgment will be entirely theirs.
Our Idiot Brother
Here we have a light comedy filled with funny moments and likable actors, all of them working, unfortunately, in the service of a story that's even more simple-minded than its titular protagonist.
Paul Rudd is Ned, a bearded hippie leftover of little ambition who, in his mid-thirties, works on a Long Island organic farm owned by his sourpuss girlfriend, Janet (Kathryn Hahn). Ned is a sunny Candide with an unshakable belief in the goodness of human nature, which makes him a natural patsy—not that he minds. And since he cannot tell a lie, he's a loose cannon in a world of everyday deceit. After unwisely gifting a uniformed cop with an ounce of pot, Ned finds himself spending eight months in jail. Upon release, he learns that Janet has thrown him over for a doofus named Billy (T.J. Miller, most convincing in the role). Now he's homeless.
Ned's mom (Shirley Knight) takes him in for a while, but then he starts seeking shelter with one after another of his three sisters: Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a high-strung writer working on her first big magazine story; Liz (Emily Mortimer), a frowzy housewife married to an abrasive English filmmaker (Steve Coogan); and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), a standup comic (or something) who lives happily with her lesbian girlfriend Cindy (Rashida Jones). Into each of these lives Ned brings unwitting chaos, innocently blurting out secrets he's learned and refusing to be pressured into even the most urgently required deception.
The central weakness of the story is its simplistic message. The key characters dismiss Ned as an idiot, but in the end realize that it is they who are really screwed up, and that they must—and do—change. This is a little too tidy to be especially compelling, no matter how ably director Jesse Peretz keeps things ambling along.
Still, Rudd is wonderfully appealing here. His Ned may be a simpleton to everyone around him, but we never see him that way. It's an especially adroit comic performance, and it gives this small-scaled film a distinctive, genial glow.
Kurt Loder is a writer living in New York. His third book, a collection of film reviews called The Good, the Bad and the Godawful, will be out on November 8th from St. Martin's Press. Follow him on Twitter at kurt_loder.