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Review: ‘Colombiana’

Zoe Saldana in 'Colombiana'

Luc Besson loves girls with guns.

High-class married lady Isabelle Adjani pulled a gun out of her bag to threaten punks in 1985’s ‘Subway,’ Besson’s second film as a director. Low-class felon Anne Parillaud was unwillingly trained as an assassin in ‘La Femme Nikita,’ and a very young and violently-orphaned Natalie Portman yearned to be an assassin in ‘Leon’ (AKA ‘The Professional’). Perhaps it’s more accurate to describe Besson as a man who appreciates strong women, as in ‘The Fifth Element,’ ‘The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc,’ and the upcoming ‘The Lady.’ And then there are the dozens of films that he has written, co-written, and produced, most featuring feisty and/or powerful feminine figures.

Zoe Saldana is the latest Besson heroine in ‘Colombiana,’ a story that reportedly began life as a sequel to ‘Leon.’ Her character, Cataleya, played by Amandla Stenberg as a 9-year-old, is violently orphaned when her father tries to quit the criminal lifestyle in Colombia. She narrowly escapes death in a gleeful chase scene, finding refuge initially in the U.S. Embassy and later in the home of her uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis) in Chicago. After a brief, vivid lesson on the risks inherent in being a hired killer, the film jumps forward 15 years to 2007, where the 24-year-old Cataleya executes a well-conceived plan and, well, executes someone with stealthy efficiency.

Cataleya is established as a woman who has no hesitation at using her physical assets, or any other means at hand, to achieve her goal. She is single-minded in her determination to exact revenge against Don Louis (Beto Benites), the man who ordered the death of her family, and Marco (Jordi Molla), the man who carried out the order. Little else matters to her, beyond a modest affection for her grandmother (Ofelia Medina) and a desire for regular sexual gratification from clueless boy toy Danny (Michael Vartan).

The details of the plot are clearly of minimal interest to the filmmakers, which encouraged me to tap my foot waiting for the next attempted murder. Olivier Megaton, who made ‘Transporter 3’ for Besson, puts all the juice into the action sequences, which are shredded into half-second bites suitable for swallowing without chewing. And because the story serves only as connective tissue linking the less than memorable action scenes, the movie erases itself from your memory as it plays.

‘Colombiana’ passes the time but struggles to maintain your attention.