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June 11, 2014

Colombiana

by Franz Patrick


Colombiana (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

In 1992, when young Cataleya (Amanda Stenberg) was only five years old, she witnessed the assassination of her parents (Jesse Borrego, Cynthia Addai-Robinson). Her father wanted to stop working for Don Luis (Beto Benites) but leaving the organization was simply out of the question. Equipped with natural athleticism, street smarts, and a bit of luck, Cataleya was able to escape her country and seek refuge in the United States to live with her Uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis). When he asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said she wanted to be a killer.

Based on the screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, “Colombiana” is engaging during the action scenes but when it shifts its focus on the human drama, it comes across like a tepid spin-off of a great television show. Although Saldana plays a very watchable heroine, her presence is not enough to make up for the picture’s more noticeable inadequacies.

The scene of young Cataleya running from gangsters—in the streets, inside homes, and on roofs—is most enthralling to watch because the chase consists only of images and score, alongside minimal usage of sound effects. Add the decreasing distance between the little girl and the men with guns, it is impossible not to root for the child. In other words, the director is aware that he need not do too much to the viewers that there is suspense on screen.

Fifteen years later, Cataleya (Zoe Saldana) becomes involved in the contract killing business run by her uncle. Unbeknownst to him, however, Cataleya is responsible for the murders of people connected to Don Luis because she hopes to get his attention. This left me feeling confused about half the time. Why go through all the trouble when she suspects that Don Luis still lives in the same country? To me, it is obvious: the man will not dare to leave country because he has the greatest influence in Colombia. Our protagonist is a smart woman with excellent instincts. It would have made more sense if she had returned, did a bit of investigation, and systematically narrowed down the gangster’s location.

Due to the material’s lack of logic, the situation provided above being one of the half a dozen examples, it is difficult to process all the happenings as more than a mere set-up to inject more sadness in Cataleya’s life. And of course she there is a subplot involving a boyfriend (Michael Vartan). The relationship is written in such a cheesy at times that I wondered if the lead character might have been better off as a college student in her twenties and slowly figuring out what is important to her than a woman so driven by revenge that she is willing to make unnecessary sacrifices.

“Colombiana,” directed by Olivier Megaton, has plenty of ideas but about half of them need to be excised so that Cataleya’s redemption arc has a chance to come into focus. Why not dedicate more scenes between Emilio and his niece? Both have experienced losing persons they loved. Instead, their interactions are reduced to secret meetings in a library or a laundromat.

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