August 27, 2011 -- Hit men, professional killers, are a favorite topic of the action film genre. These days, these killer roles are an equal opportunity acting job for women as well as men. Zoe Saldana, who made a major splash playing the Uhura character in the latest Star Trek movie, is the latest woman to portray a professional killer, and a vengeful one at that, in a major motion picture.
Saldana, an intense beauty, is a powerful actress, but shares a common weakness with many women who play these kinds of action roles. She doesn't look hefty or athletic enough to beat anyone up. She looks like a high fashion model with a very slender build. It looks like she'd break like a dried twig if you hit her hard. But that can be said of many women who play these kinds of roles, including Hilary Swank, who won an Oscar playing a boxer. Very few actresses look like they have the muscle mass needed to survive an extended boxing match. I guess you have to expect this kind of unbelievable heroine from the same people who brought you the even more ridiculous “La Femme Nikita.” The female empowerment theme in the film is further eroded by the revealing costumes worn by Saldana in the movie. Frequently, she is seen in very skimpy clothing, with as little of her covered as possible. Being a sex object with a gun most is not really female empowerment. It is more like sexploitation.
Saldana plays Cataleya Restrepo, a woman who has spent years training as an assassin to get revenge for the murder of her parents. The story begins at the beginning with the death of her parents in Columbia 15 years ago (a young Cataleya is played by Amandla Stenberg). The young Cataleya shows plenty of courage and resourcefulness in escaping death at the hands of her parents killers. This foreshadows what she will later become, a honed instrument of revenge. She escapes Columbia and comes to the United States to live with her uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis of “The Last Airbender”) who also happens to be involved in organized crime. He sets up the contracts for Cataleya.
One day the FBI task force (headed by Special Agent Ross, played by Lennie James of “Jericho”) decides to publicize what they know about a series of 22 murders by a serial killer. It turns out that Cataleya is the killer and she has been leaving behind clues in an attempt to draw out her parents killers. Emilio is upset about the clues, justifiably calling Cataleya “stupid.” She has not only put herself in danger, but the rest of Emilio's family as well. Cataleya is so determined to get her revenge she is willing to put her remaining family at risk to get it.
The movie walks a fine line between glorifying violence and a cautionary message about the high cost of revenge. This is, however, a fairly standard revenge action film. That being said, it works well enough, thanks to some good performances, some good action sequences and some Mission Impossible-like tactical operations. There is also a nice cat-and-mouse relationship between Ross and Cataleya that is a bit reminiscent of the Harrison Ford-Tommy Lee Jones dynamic in “The Fugitive.” Sometimes, though, you can't tell which one is the cat and which is the mouse. This film rates a B.
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