But is Columbiana REALLY Good?
No, but it could have been, maybe even should have been.
One of my favorite weekly podcasts is The Firewall & Iceberg Podcast. Dan Feinberg and Allan Sepinwall, two TV critics for HitFlix.com, spend an hour or more discussing in detail everything that is happening on TV (great to listen to while you are doing mindless work). I mention this because they often say, when reviewing a TV show that isn’t good, that they could seen an alternate universe where the premise or the star or some element of the show would work. I can clearly see an alternate universe where Columbiana is a crowd pleasing blockbuster. But in this universe … in this universe it is hard for me to imagine someone who wasn’t annoyed and distracted by the lack of logic, lack of common sense, lack of explanation and sheer stupidity of nearly every person and plot point. And that is a shame because anyone who watched Columbiana I’m certain can picture Zoe Saldana as an action movie star, just not here.
Note: Spoilers Ahead, If You Think It Is Possible For Columbiana To Be Ruined Don’t Read On
Before getting into all of the things that put Columbiana on many a worst of 2011 list I do want to point out that there are many things (OK some things) that the movie does really well:
- Amanda Stenberg is terrific – Who is Amanda Stenberg? Well, the world just saw her save Katniss and see her death start riots in The Hunger Games. And if she caught your eye as Rue believe me, she absolutely owns the screen as the young Cataleya (Zoe Saldana’s character). Speaking of alternate universes, after watching the first 20 minutes of Columbiana you can absolutely see an world where Amanda Stenberg is the star of an action movie.
- Zoe Saldana looks and moves right – I talked about this a lot when I listed the 50 greatest sports movies of all time, most actors just don’t move with the fluidity and physical confidence that an athlete does or in this case as you would imagine an assassin would. Zoe Saldana was/is a trained dancer and ballerina and you can see that when she moves. So, the filmmakers smartly made her part assassin part cat burglar and used that fluidity to her advantage. She wasn’t taking on men twice her size head on, she is sneaking through ventilator shafts and climbing up walls and frankly she does that more convincingly than most male actors ever could.
- Zoe Saldana is a Movie Star – She hasn’t found the right movie yet, but she has all the charisma, talent and beauty to carry a movie with ease and it is solely her charisma that makes this movie watchable (and Amanda Stenberg’s like charisma for the first part of the movie).
So, basically the movie got a good star and used a number of her strengths well (I should say the movie is generally beautiful to look at as well). What went wrong? Look, I know action movies by their nature require a degree of dismissal of your own common sense and frankly that is one of the things that makes watching an action movie fun, but there is still a minimum level logical progression that the plot and characters have to follow. All of the people in this movie do things that are so stupid (or don’t do things that any normal person would do) that the filmmakers never acknowledge and the plot hinges on things that are so obvious that no one recognizes that the weight of all that stupidity crushes the film. Here are some examples:
- Cataleya is a high priced assassin, who does a lot of work for drug king pins throughout the country, but she isn’t aware that the least subtle drug king pin of all time, who just happens to be the man she wants to kill, is living in New Orleans? And, the drug king pin, who is looking for her, has no way of finding out how to contact her?
- A 10 year old Cataleya escapes Columbia by turning over information to the U.S. government about the drug king pins business. Then, with no explanation, we find out the CIA relocated him to the U.S. and let him continue to do his drug business.
- 10 year old Cataleya gets to the US, looses her CIA handlers in about 30 seconds, and goes to her Uncle’s in Chicago, who is a known criminal of some repute … and the Columbian’s never think to check there for her. They know who he is, they know where he is, they know she went to America, it takes them 15 years to put two and two together.
There are plenty of others, but they all pale in comparison to this one:
- The FBI’s lead investigator is doggedly pursuing Zoe Saldana and just as he is closing in she breaks into his home and by threatening him and his family gets him to go to the CIA to find out where the big bad drug king pin is. He gets the address and gives it to her over the phone. He knows exactly where she is going (I mean exactly) and roughly when she will be there, and does nothing. I know what you’re thinking, you figure he must still be afraid for his family so he is letting her go. Nope, he’s still chasing her. It is honestly as if he just doesn’t think about going to get her at the drug dealers house in New Orleans (maybe he thought that would be too simple). But he is still looking into leads trying to guess what her next move will be.
Don’t Worry …
I hope Zoe Saldana finds the right action movie that will make her a star (she will get more chances with a new Star Trek and a sequel to Avatar both in the works). I know we will see a lot more of Amanda Stenberg. And I wonder if Cliff Curtis and Jordi Molia ever get annoyed that everyone in hollywood looks at them and thinks they can play every ethnicity (middle eastern, south american, it all looks the same, right?).
Columbiana is a Level III movie