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Movie Review

Colombiana

Revenge is a dish best served hot

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By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / August 27, 2011

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“Revenge is beautiful,’’ asserts the tag line for “Colombiana,’’ Zoe Saldana’s long-overdue application for better stardom. This is a Luc Besson-written-and-produced fun house, so really, it’s the action-thriller equivalent of applying for a summer job at the Gap. As beautiful as Saldana is, that tagline is being coy. Speaking generically: Revenge is hot. When the FBI descends upon her fortified hideaway, she’s in her underwear. Which means the feds are either smart or lucky. Saldana is barefoot, in her skivvies, and heavily armed. She’s Cataleya - like, we’re told, the breed of orchid.

A Bogotá drug lord killed Cataleya’s father (Jesse Borrego). The year was 1992; she was about 10 but hasn’t forgotten. She moves to Chicago with a gangster uncle (a murkily Latin-sounding Cliff Curtis) who, at her request, trains her to kill. She and the props department have stored giant guns in air ducts, built a world-class security system, and acquired a big armored truck because, well, Saldana looks cool driving it. She masterminded every aspect of her lot. The only thing she didn’t plan on - sigh - was love, in the form of Michael Vartan, who appears to have learned nothing about double lives from all those years doing this with Jennifer Garner on “Alias.’’

Whatever training she received was superfluous since she appears born for the kill. The movie’s only touch of wit occurs in a sequence in which young Cataleya (Amandla Stenberg) sits at a table with a glass of milk and her homework. When the drug lord’s henchmen arrive for her, she turns into a hand-stabbing, roof-jumping acrobat. Later, revealing that she’s a “Xena’’ sets her up for future man-slaying bad-assedness. But Besson and his French collaborator, Robert Mark Kamen, have just taken a bit of their other, better work - “The Fifth Element,’’ “The Professional,’’ “The Transporter,’’ “Taken’’ - and put Saldana’s face on them. The director Olivier Megaton blows things up, demolishes a fruit market, and throws in some parkour foot-chases as if he’s completing a checklist.

A movie like this can’t hurt Saldana, who has been much better in roles that require her charisma and her amazing laugh. Nonetheless, she commits herself to slinking around in a catsuit, swimming with hilariously phony sharks, and firing two Uzis at a time. You see where Besson and Kamen might have wanted to go with all this. It’s basically a blaxploitation movie stretched to meaninglessly international proportions that leans on tired Colombian stereotypes. But if Saldana’s aiming to be some kind of new Pam Grier, she needs to save more than herself.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com or followed on Twitter: @wesley_morris.

COLOMBIANA

Directed by: Olivier Megaton

Written by: Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

Starring: Zoe Saldana, Michael Vartan, and Cliff Curtis

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 105 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (violence, disturbing images, intense sequences of action, sexuality, and brief strong language)

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