Back in 1992 in Bogota, one little girl saw her life change forever when her father came home one day and told her that they had to leave immediately. Although she did not quite understand why, she believed him when he said the computer chip he had given her must not fall into the wrong hands, but those hands were closing in on her family, and when her father and mother ventured downstairs heavily armed only to meet a hail of gunfire she knew the worst was happening. Now she had to get away to safety - the American Embassy seemed like a good bet...
Following that might be the reason for writer and producer Luc Besson's interest in telling his story, because it takes the form of the most notable sequence in the movie, an action scene featuring a little girl. She didn't pick up a gun and begin mowing down the bad guys, but did demonstrate athletic ability as she fled her pursuers over rooftops, across streets and properties, and even down into the sewers. Such business was more of a novelty than anything, but raised hopes that Colombiana would be more crazy than it actually played out, for once the girl grew up into Zoë Saldana it didn't half get morose.
Not so the verging on camp hard man tone of Besson's Transporter films (one of which the director here, Olivier Megaton, had helmed) although this was no less over the top in its fashion, but it seemed as if casting a woman as the resident action figure left everyone wanting the audience to take this gravely seriously instead of enjoying a rollicking good adventure. The little girl (Amandla Stenberg) ably stars in the first twenty-five minutes of the movie as she makes her way to the United States and the uncle (Cliff Curtis) she knows can not only take care of her, but can teach her in the ways of murder, all the better to exact her revenge on the crime lord who ruined her life.
We then fast forward to 2007 where she is now Saldana, or Cataleya as the character is called, is putting into practice her training, and this is shaping up quite promisingly as a sequence reminiscent of a proper heist movie unfolds as she performs an exquisitely timed assassination. When we hear she has carried out an unlikely twenty-two of these executions, all presumably just as elaborately planned as the one we've just seen, then we wonder if this is going to get repetitive, and see the actual way this is heading which is about an hour of soul searching, and boy does it feel like it. Wall to wall action would be a rather high demand of course, but a sense of humour would not have gone amiss.
If this was Besson's idea of what would happen to the Natalie Portman character from Léon when she grew up, then perhaps it would have been better not to try and hit the emotional heights of that previous cult classic and instead try a different tack, for Saldana may look the part as the lithe, graceful and finely sculpted killer, but she doesn't have much personality to work with in the material she had been given. With the addition of Michael Vartan as a truly superfluous boyfriend who naturally does not know what Cata gets up to when she's not around him, and the more promising but equally squandered Lennie James as the detective trying to stop her killing spree, the missed opportunities mount up which offers you nothing but the odd well-staged action extravaganza to hold the attention. Still, when it's not fretting over the heroine's moral obligations and consequences of her behaviour, there are aspects here nicely professional for this type of thing. Music by Nathaniel Méchaly and Craig Walker.