Review: ‘Colombiana’ Makes a Frustrating Mess of Simple Revenge

By  · Published on August 26th, 2011

In the genre of revenge thrillers, neither the French nor the South Americans are slouches. For decades, both cultures have produced countless bloody bonanzas that have been tinted yellow, untethered by conventional decency and piled upon with empty bullet casings. So what happens when two Frenchmen – uber producer Luc Besson and appropriately named action director Olivier Megaton – make a film about a South American killer hell bent on revenge starring Zoe Saldana, one of the most effortlessly sexy people on the planet? Somehow it all goes terrible wrong. It has the tint, the bullet casings and the motive, but Colombiana doesn’t feel so free – it conforms to a PG-13 world, which sort of takes the fun out of the whole experience.

The story revolves around Cataleya (Amandla Stenberg), a horticulturaly named, dead-eyed little girl who watches her Colombian mobster parents get mowed down in a hail of gunfire by Marco (Jordi Molla), the top henchman of a boss named Don Luis (Beto Benites). Narrowly escaping her parents killers in an absurd display of kiddy parkour, she flees to the United States where her uncle Emilio, a South American played unconvincingly (complete with in-and-out accent) by New Zealander Cliff Curtis, agreed to teach her how to kill if she stays in school.

Flash forward 15 years and a now fully grown, fully hot Cataleya (Zoe Saldana) is on the warpath. She’s killer for hire by day, revenge-seeker by night. All she does is kill, kill, take her clothes off, put her bra on, then kill some more. You’d think this would make for a fun ride, but somehow it falls short. It’s clear that graffiti artist turned action director Olivier Megaton, like any hetero dude with warm blood pulsing through his veins, wants what we all want: to see an underwear-clad Saldana wielding a very big gun in service of an emotional quest. Sadly, Saldana in lingerie holding a gun is the most interesting thing he can come up with in the 107 minute run time of Colombiana. The rest is a messy, half-baked thriller that stops just short of being violent, sexy or even poorly written.

The poorly written element comes from what Megaton has admitted was a unique origin for the project. It began, essentially, as Luc Besson’s unmade sequel to The Professional, a film he had hoped to make with Natalie Portman. When that didn’t quite work out, the moved it all in a different direction, layering on a poorly constructed South American backstory and patching up dialogue to make it a little more hip, and ultimately wooden. The narrative feels like it’s been spliced together from a hundred ideas floating around in writer/producer Besson’s head – action scenes feel out of place, dialogue and character arcs are disjointed. This is his colorful, South American action movie quilt that he forgot to stitch together properly.

And Megaton, in his efforts to become the most flamboyantly French Michael Bay doppleganger possible – he even brought Jordi Molla along to reprise his Johnny Tapia attitude that he delivered in Bay’s Bad Boys 2 – delivers the visuals with the subtlety of a Rhinoceros trapped in a delivery truck filled with highly flammable ether. The camera swoops and swings and then, when it comes down to showing us some carnage, showing us Zoe Saldana’s badass Latina Rambo moments, Megaton cuts away to conform with the PG-13 rating he’ll need in order to sell this to decent, mundane audiences. What’s the French for “What a pussy!” anyway? In the end, the best we can say about his film is that it’s an extended lingerie commercial that sprays a few wayward bullets and looks as if it were shot with expensive cameras.

If a revenge thriller fails to deliver sex, violence and creative demises for its despicable bad guys, can we still call it a revenge thriller? In that regard, it’s hard to say that Olivier Megaton – whose Transporter 3 I liked very much – has even created something worth of the genre. His ninja-like lady killer, personified surprisingly well with constrained cool by Saldana, is too often a super-soldier and sometimes despicable (she even threatens to kill some innocent people in a way that makes no sense whatsoever). She’s sadly unlikable, despite the nature of her quest and the manner in which she dresses. If it’s not violent, lacks creativity and is dubiously unsexy, then how, again, is this a proper revenge thriller? It’s almost as if it was written as a bad spoof, but that was never communicated to anyone on set, all of whom took it incredibly seriously.

It’s not. Colombiana is stupid, listless and too shy to be any fun.

The Upside: If you like bad accents, Zoe Saldana’s figure in shadow form and atrocious dialogue, this movie is for you.

The Downside: If you like good revenge thrillers, this one simply doesn’t stack up.

On the Side: As mentioned above, director Olivier Megaton recently admitted in an interview that this film was the evolved, redirected version of Luc Besson’s script for a sequel to The Professional.

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)