American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Pauline Kael has already reviewed this movie in her book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and it only took her the title. I could go through my usual vaudeville act about chase scenes and queasy-cams and Idiot Plots, but instead I'd like you to join me in the analysis of something that increasingly annoys me.
Imagine we are watching "From Paris With Love" on a DVD with a stop-action button. We look at an action scene all the way through. John Travolta stars as Charlie Wax, an American Mr. Fix-It with a shaved head and goatee, who has been sent to Paris on a mysterious assignment. Not mysterious to him, mysterious to us. It involves Asian drug dealers and/or terrorists from the Middle East. Doesn't matter who they are or what they do, because their only function here is to try to kill Charlie and his fall-guy partner James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).
OK. We're on the sofa. We look at the scene. We take a second look. We focus on Travolta. This is an athlete. His reflexes are on a hair trigger. He can deal with several enemies at a time. He can duck, jump, hurdle, spin and leap. One slight miscalculation, and he's dead. He doesn't miss a beat. He's in superb condition, especially for a guy whose favorite food is Cheese Royales. That's a little joke reminding us of "Pulp Fiction," and the last thing you should do is remind the audience of a movie they'd rather be home watching.
Now we go through the scene a frame at a time. We don't miss much in the way of continuity, because it's pretty much glued together a frame at a time. We see a dizzying cascade of images, but here's a funny thing: We don't see Travolta completing many extended physical movements, and none involving any danger. The shots of him involve movement, but in bursts of a few frames, intercut with similar bursts of action by his attackers. There is no sense of continuous physical movement taking place within a defined space. No overall sense of the choreography.