Movie Review: ‘Columbiana’

August 26, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015
FONT BFONT SText size
COVERT OPERATION: Zoe Saldana in a scene from the action-adventure-drama 'Colombiana.' (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
COVERT OPERATION: Zoe Saldana in a scene from the action-adventure-drama 'Colombiana.' (Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Where do you go from playing a 9-foot-tall, blue-green Navi warrior-princess? Given the acrobatic fight skills she displayed in Avatar, Hollywood typecasting will most likely have model-slender Zoe Saldana playing tough-guys from here on in. Since producer Luc Besson’s stock-in-trade is the female assassin film (Leon: The Professional, La Femme Nikita), Colombiana was a match made in She-Terminator heaven.

Personally witnessing the death of her parents at a tender age has seriously twisted the mind of Zoe’s character “Cataleya,” and it’s revenge-central as she goes on a rampage against various and sundry Colombian underworld types. She’s gonna try and kill ’em all (wink wink)!

Shot primarily in yellows and blues, the film gets off to a slow start, as the child actress playing the young version of Cataleya is not a natural in the acting department, like Natalie Portman was in The Professional. She’s also just not believable as a kindergarten-aged Parkour-move-busting mini-ninja. It’s especially hard to suspend disbelief around the line, “I want to be a killer,” out of the mouth of this very cute 6-year-old. The first third of the movie suffers from this.

FAMILY TIES: Zoe Saldana and Ofelia Medina in a scene from the action-adventure-drama 'Colombiana.' (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
FAMILY TIES: Zoe Saldana and Ofelia Medina in a scene from the action-adventure-drama 'Colombiana.' (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
Eventually though, it kicks into a higher gear, when Saldana takes over, and all of a sudden it turns into a serious Mission Impossible and Bourne Identity type of flick, with a little “Coffy” and “Cleopatra Jones” 1970s blaxploitation soundtrack sprinkled in (unfortunately, probably still a serious Hollywood boardroom consideration whenever an African-American actress does an action film).

Saldana has classic beauty, of course, but she also has a tremendous physical charisma, ninja-ing about in a black leotard. This flowing grace, clad in a current, trendy fashion show of skinny jeans, unlaced army boots, and slouchy beanie while doing a sensual end-zone dance in her blue-lit high-tech loft (after a successful hit) definitely go a long way toward glamming up the assassin life.

That’s a little disturbing. What’s more disturbing is that gun ads are showing up lately in non-gun magazines. And they’re for .50-caliber sniper rifles, no less. That had to be a .50-caliber that Zoe’s character was toting on her hip while sashaying down a grim underground corridor. What’s up with the hype on these gargantuan guns lately? And assassins? And snipers? The culture of death is very seductive, that’s what.

Saldana’s character has the ability to be soft and sensual but can turn on a dime, with the icy, dead eyes of a black mamba. It’s a psychopathic shift between having no remorse at “stacking enemies like cordwood,” and sentimentally sniffing her boyfriend’s shirt when he’s not available.

The movie does a good job of showing how “random” elements always have a way of contributing clues in detective work, but the ending is inconclusive. Sequel, perhaps? Now that the slow, childhood background story is out of the way, it could happen.

It’s clear that Saldana can carry a movie by herself. It’s probably a safe bet to predict, in the vernacular of “The Terminator” (or She-terminators or is it Sherminators?). “She’ll be baaahk.”

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch