Zoe Saldana metes out bloody death to person after person until she runs out of people to kill in Columbiana, a movie that is about 80 percent fighting, 20 percent plot.
Not, I should be clear, that this is a bad thing.
As a wee girl growing up in Colombia, Cataleya (Amandla Stenberg) was present when her parents were gunned down by vicious drug dealer Marco (Jordi Molla) on the orders of even more vicious drug dealer Don Luis (Beto Benites). He leaves her alive to ask her about the whereabouts of a computer chip that holds valuable criminal-enterprise-type information. But it’s obvious Cataleya has been watching a lot of Xena, Warrior Princess, because she stabs Marco in the hand and scampers to safety, using information her father gave her to get a passport to the U.S. There, she makes her way to Chicago and her Uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis). Teach me to be a killer, this at-most-11-year-old girl tells him. He’s able to convince her to stay in school to become a smart killer, one who isn’t just about brute force and big guns.
As we see, she is about these things but she is a crackerjack planner as well.
As an adult, Cataleya (Saldana) is indeed a smart killer. She works as an assassin, specializing in killing people in prisons or in well-guarded mansions. But it isn’t just about the killing or the payday for her. On each victim she leaves a line-drawing sketch of a Cataleya orchid. The orchid was the symbol of her father’s family, and she hopes to send a message (something like “check out my killing skills” and “come and get me”) to the men who killed her parents.
This kind of life doesn’t leave a lot of time for dating, so she has a very arm’s-length relationship with Danny (Michael Vartan), an artist eager to learn more about her.
Columbiana is an economical movie. It doesn’t waste a whole lot of time on extra plot threads or superfluous characters or, frequently, pants for Cataleya. Saldana spends a lot of the movie in what could pass for underwear (or, on one occasion, a rather skimpy wetsuit). It’s as though the movie is quickly trying to get down to business — in this case, that business is giving us images of Saldana in minimal clothes carrying giant guns. Sometimes, when you order a cheeseburger, that’s all you’re looking for — cheese, burger, bun, maybe a pickle. Columbiana is that cheeseburger — no guacamole or bacon slices to get in the way here.
And on that level, the movie works. It reminds me a bit of Taken, a Liam Neeson movie where, in order to save his daughter, he spends, like, an hour and 10 minutes of the hour-and-30-minute movie killing people. Columbiana is still in its backstory when our heroine starts beating up bad guys and giving chase. Because this movie is all action, you don’t worry so much about the fact that there isn’t a lot else going on. Even the bit of cops-and-robbers with FBI Agent Ross (Lennie James) is just around long enough to further the hunt.
That’s a lot for just Saldana to carry, but she does it admirably. She’s a perfectly serviceable action hero — as good as Angelina Jolie but with more liveliness.
Looking for some no-frills kicking and shooting? Columbiana will get the job done. B-
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, intense sequences of action, sexuality and brief strong language. Directed by Olivier Megaton with a screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, Columbiana is an hour and 47 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Sony Pictures.