By Coop Cooper
10 year-old Cataleya witnesses her parents death at the hands of a brutal Bogota gangster. Instead of cowering in a corner, she stabs the boss in the hand, jumps out the window and proceeds to escape by doing flips off of rooftops like Spider-Man. Flash-forward to present day, Cataleya (Zoe Saldana) has become a ruthless Chicago hit woman for her mobster uncle (Cliff Curtis). In her spare time, she tracks down the gangster who killed her family in Columbia while carrying on a casual relationship with a dim-witted artist (Michael Vartan).
This film utilizes every genre cliché and then some. Back in the Blockbuster Video days you might find this video under what they called the “Super Action” section, usually reserved for direct-to-video films which is exactly where this one belongs. It is designed for absurdity to the point where the only redeeming value is to see a 10 year-old girl dressed in a school uniform leaping Bogata rooftops and base-sliding into open drains.
Despite my intense dislike of this movie, I can deduce an interesting way in which it might have come about. Writer Luc Besson has long talked about trying to woo Natalie Portman into reprising her role as hit man protege from Besson’s 1994 hit “Leon” (a.k.a. “The Professional”). He had planned to call the film “Matilda” and have Portman as a grown-up assassin working for the New York mob, then eventually turning against them. Here’s what I’m guessing happened…
Besson presented a lazy and clichéd script to Portman who probably said, “No way, I’ve got an Oscar now.” Discouraged, Besson passes it off to French director Oliver Megaton who repackages the script with a sexy minority cast. Who’s a hot minority actor these days? Zoe Saldana, even though she heavily overacted her role as a blue alien in “Avatar” and can’t manage a shred of sincerity in any role she takes. There, I think I nailed it. “Matilda” could have been a spectacular sequel, but if it never happens, I’m blaming “Columbiana.”
Speaking of Saldana, she has failed to prove herself as an A-list actor in my opinion and has fallen flat as often as her “Avatar” co-star Sam Worthington. She fits a cultural/racial niche being from the Dominican Republic. She qualifies to play both Hispanic and African American and is easy on the eyes. She might find herself a hot commodity now, but lest we forget Thandie Newton and what a big deal Hollywood tried to make out of her. I have a feeling unless Saldana can find a special role to craft an exceptional performance to win everyone over, she might receive an unceremonious demotion to the B-list. Hammy acting in her niche can get you a one-way ticket to cinematic obscurity. Just ask Thandie Newton.
I wouldn’t dare disregard the movie entirely. It might not attain blockbuster status, but I have a feeling “Columbiana” will find a large cultural, action and gender-specific fan base. It fills a lot of tall orders in those departments, despite its vapid delivery and unoriginal storyline. I will go so far as to say it could spawn a series of sequels, all with Saldana in a “Bourne Identity” -type franchise that keeps churning out films as long as the sales turn a profit.
Hollywood no longer denies the tremendous hunger the changing American demographic has for ethnic diversity and strong female leads in mainstream films. I enthusiastically encourage this trend but I will never hold up “Columbiana” as a shining example.
Want to see similar, yet much better films? Try “G.I. Jane,” “Terminator 2,” “Kill Bill” or even “Strange Days” to find women (sometimes minority women) in effective, non-stereotypical action roles. None are perfect but at least they don’t fall under the category of “a waste of time.”
Rating: 2 out of 5