“Colombiana” falls short even by summer action-movie standards

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Zoe Saldana stars in “Colombiana,” a mediocre revenge film directed by Olivier Megaton. (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Traditionally, August is regarded as something of a dumping ground for films, the place where the movies too atrocious to be released in the summer go to die a brief and painless death at the box office before ascending to the afterlife of home video. Unfortunately, “Colombiana” is not an exception to the rule but rather a staunch enforcer, reminding everyone just how terrible a rejected summer action movie released in the back end of August can be.

“Colombiana” plays out just like every revenge movie ever made, starting with an extended prologue that finds a young Cataleya (Amandla Stenberg) seeing her parents gunned down before her eyes thanks to a ruthless criminal. After being taken in by her uncle (Cliff Curtis), Cataleya (now played by Zoe Saldana) becomes a ruthless killer, determined to track down her parents’ killers.

From the very first scene, Luc Besson’s screenplay begins straining under the weight of its own story. Assuming audiences must be familiar with the typical revenge film, Besson never bothers to explain exactly what kind of criminal the film’s villain is or why he’s killing her parents or why exactly everyone in Cataleya’s family is insanely proficient with guns, trusting us to fill in the blanks from every other film like this.

Even more than that, it dispenses entirely with the concept of character development, instead reducing its cast to a collection of plot points with faces. The entire supporting cast is assigned a single distinguishing detail, be it the determined FBI agent (Lennie James) who loves his family or Cataleya’s love interest (Michael Vartan) who can never finish one of his paintings.

Even Cataleya, the heroine, is paper thin and wildly inconsistent. In fact, Saldana’s performance really boils down to three things — playing with guns, crying or being sexualized as much as the film’s PG-13 rating will allow.

Olivier Megaton, who directed the infuriating third installment of the “Transporter” series, is responsible for this train wreck. Megaton keeps the film moving at a pretty brisk pace and stages a few entertaining set pieces, and with a stronger script, he could probably end up with a pretty decent B-movie.

“Colombiana” is stupid to the point of actually insulting its audience. When a film is slapped together so haphazardly, an empty collection of ingredients the creators may have figured their teenaged audience might enjoy, there’s honestly no reason to subject yourself to it. 

Printed on Monday, August 29, 2011 as: Revenge flick fails by summer standards.