Beginning in the Colombian capital in 1992, a young woman named Cataleya witnesses the death of both parents via the local crime lord. After a genuinely exciting and action-packed chase scene (think a mini Bourne scarpering around, and replace Tangier with the back streets of Bogota) the plucky tween manages to escape her captors and find her way to US shores, where she begins to rebuild her life by hooking up with her tough, yet nurturing uncle (Cliff Curtis), whom she is insistent on teaching her how to be a professional hitwoman.
The film then brings us in to present day, where Cataleya, now in her early thirties (and played by the luminous Zoe Saldana) is a lean, mean, killing machine who has made good on her career plans. Still unable to find her intended target, due to his cover being guarded by a shady operative from the CIA (wouldn’t she just venture back down there anyway?) she presses on regardless, forsaking love and a normal life in her pursuit for retribution.
The first 20 minutes or so of Colombiana suggests a Latino-flavoured, high-octane remake of Leon may be on the cards, but unfortunately, the film pretty much runs out of steam shortly after Saldana is revealed as the grown-up Cataleya. This is not to suggest that any fault lies with the actress. She actually gives it everything and really helps sells the preposterous notion of the methodical female assassin with acute, almost superhuman, combat training (and unlike Angelina Jolie in last year’s Salt, regardless of her svelte figure and small frame, she looks like she could feasible kick some serious ass). She’s let down by a barebones script (the likes of which Besson and co-scribe, Robert Mark Kamen, most probably knocked out over a bottle or two of Chateauneuf du Pape) that, while establishing why she would look to avenge the death of her parents, never really explores her inner psyche or the reasons behind her wanting to work in such a crazy profession. The film also exists within a reality-bending universe from that of our own, where the software on the PC belonging to dedicated cop (British export Lennie James) is capable of doing anything and finding anyone at the touch of a button, and all air conditioning vents magically possess ample space for a human figure to freely roam around in.
The film also features perhaps one of the worst-written male parts ever, in the form of Catalina’s bit on the side – an artist named Danny (Michael Vartan) who she has managed to keep at arms length, emotionally. He is one of the least ineffectual characters ever to grace the big screen (or maybe this is Besson having a sly role-reversal dig at the tropes which are usually attached to this male-dominated genre?)
None of these gripes will probably bother the intended core demographic (horny, male adolescents) and when the director goes by the moniker Oliver Megaton, this was hardly going to be a subtle portrayal of one women’s emotional plight at losing both parents at an early age. Nevertheless, the film suffers greatly from a severely underwritten and uninteresting lead role (despite the best efforts of Saldana), and even the potentially interesting euro-flavoured aesthetic, mixed in with the Michael Bay and Tony Scott school of big bangs fails to come alive, and (even more annoyingly for a film of this kind) grows increasingly tiresome and lifeless as the action intensifies.
If you’re looking for a strong female character to hold your attention in this kind of film, do yourself a favour and rent Besson’s own Nikita (and the aforementioned Leon, for that matter). Unlike Colombiana, both films take a similar character and really make you care about her predicament and journey.