Cataleya is named for a delicate orchid, but she's in fighting shape. This sleekly beautiful killing machine mows down numerous macho opponents in the primal revenge drama "Colombiana." Just as Cataleya gets the job done, the movie accomplishes its basic genre agenda.
What's disappointing is that "Colombiana" initially seems like it may develop into something more than a violent exercise. The opening scenes grab your attention as 9-year-old Cataleya sees her drug-dealing parents slaughtered in their home in Colombia. Narrowly escaping the same fate, she already displays the survival skills that will come in so handy.
The actress playing young Cataleya, Amandla Stenberg, has such quietly intense features that she makes it seem like the movie will be an interesting character study. Cataleya reveals that she once wanted to be like the warrior princess Xena, but the killing of her parents has made her want to become a killer in order to avenge their deaths.
The enterprising girl manages to evade government authorities and travel alone to the United States, where she goes to live with a drug-dealing uncle in Chicago. Some viewers may begin to peel away from the movie at this point, because this family's involvement in gun-enforced illegal drug dealing is matter-of-factly presented as simply a lifestyle choice. You can cut the young girl some slack for going along with the family norm, but the filmmakers similarly don't seem to know better.
In any event, the movie cuts ahead 15 years to show Cataleya as a fully grown woman whose form-fitting outfits make the most of her adult status. Just in case you hadn't noticed her beauty, there are several scenes whose sole point is to show Cataleya changing clothes.
The adult Cataleya is played by Zoe Saldana, whom you may recall when her skin was blue in "Avatar." She does not have much depth or range as an actress, but she sure looks swell as Cataleya. If this character type seems overly familiar, that's because the filmmakers have no greater ambitions than to emphasize that very familiarity.
Luc Besson, whose earlier credits include "The Fifth Element," "La Femme Nikita" and "The Professional," certainly knows how to showcase female action heroes. Besson co-produced and co-wrote "Colombiana," so it's basically his movie. The director of "Colombiana," the aptly namd Olivier Megaton, is explosively faithful to that formula.
Although the movie is not particularly graphic by genre standards, it's relentlessly formulaic as Cataleya tracks down and eliminates the bad guys who slaughtered her parents years earlier. Whether hunting these bad guys or playing cat-and-mouse games with the FBI agent investigating her activities, Cataleya is one busy gal.
Some of the individual sequences are well-staged, as when Cataleya plans a clever ruse to get herself inside a prison and then proceeds to slink through its air ducts in order to reach one of the bad guys. Stringing together so many such sequences gets to be rather tedious, though, because the whole movie becomes little more than Cataleya checking names off a list.
Also, she is such a skilled hunter that some of her hits verge on being implausible. This may be why the audience is likely to laugh at such scenes. In fact, the movie's initially serious tone eventually gives way to the lighter tone one expects from a live-action cartoon in which the violence is choreographed to provoke laughter.
If you still find yourself rooting for Cataleya, there's no denying that she has dedicated her life to bumping off the bad guys who killed her parents. It doesn't hurt that she looks pretty as she bumps them off. And at least the, er, target audience for this movie will have a few laughs along the way. Grade: C
"Colombiana" (PG-13) is now playing at area theaters.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times