The revenge thriller Colombiana directed by Olivier Megaton stars Zoe Saldana as a woman who after witnessing her parents’ murder at the hands of ruthless narco-thugs grows up to become a professional assassin. The film which was written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen could very well serve as a companion piece or perhaps quasi-sequel to Besson’s 1994 classic The Professional. Whereas in that film Natalie Portman’s orphaned Mathilda is rebuked when she expresses her desire to become a “cleaner ” Saldana’s character Cataleya sees her trained-assassin dreams lovingly nurtured by her uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis) a low-level crime boss in Chicago. Positive mentorship is so important.
She shows early promise. A first-act sequence in which Colombiana’s tone is cast sees young Cataleya (Amandla Stenberg) approached by the gunmen who’ve just finished executing her mother and father. Traumatized but composed she listens patiently as the oily lead goon played by Jordi Molla presses for information he knows she’s hiding. Just as the girl seems poised to comply she pulls out a giant knife pins the man’s hand to the table swears revenge and leaps out the nearest window. Her latent Bourne powers suddenly and inexplicably activated she leads her pursuers on a sprawling footchase through the streets of Bogota leaping from buildings sliding beneath barriers showing flashes of parkour before finally escaping to the sewers. The sequence is a microcosm for the film as a whole: slathered with action thin on plot utterly implausible.
Indeed Colombiana might be easily dismissed as another derivative and forgettable action film if it weren’t for the agile and focused Saldana grimly determined to wrest every ounce of character possible from the film’s perilously thin material. When we first meet her as the adult Cataleya she is already an accomplished assassin with dozens of kills under her belt. In between jobs she keeps a booty-call (Michael Vartan) on standby to fulfill her intimacy needs. He yearns for a deeper connection but she’s stubbornly closed-off only occasionally betraying glimpses of the emotional torment within. As essentially the inverse of the standard male assassin/ female love interest dynamic it stretches the limits of believability which is to say it’s entirely consistent with the rest of the film.
Colombiana’s plot such as it is turns on the most preposterous of coincidences and appears aimless for much of its second act. Cataleya takes out various high-level targets in sequences that are often thrilling in their complexity but their relationship to the main storyline – Cataleya exacting revenge against her parents’ killers – is unclear. Deprived of details Megaton expects us to subsist on action alone but it’s not enough to fill the void left by the absence of story. When Cataleya does eventually get down to the business of revenge it comes far too swiftly to provide any real satisfaction.