At age 33, Zoe Saldana already boasts a range of characters on her resume having starred in films like Vantage Point, The Terminal, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Drumline, Takers, Guess Who, and Star Trek. Now she is taking on a role even more fantastical than the blue-skinned Na’vi princess she portrays in James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar.
In the action-packed drama Colombiana, Saldana plays a calculating, methodical killer. Her calling card is a stylized outline of an orchid drawn on the lifeless chests of her victims. But despite her despicable actions, the filmmakers try hard to justify them.
As a nine-year-old in Bogota, Cataleya Restrepo (younger version played by Amandla Stenberg) watches her parents gunned down by order of a supposed family friend (Beto Benites). Dressed in a school uniform and Mary Jane-style shoes, she sits perfectly still through it all. Then when one of the killers (Jordi Mollà) threatens her, she nails his hand to the kitchen table with a knife.
Making her way to Chicago, she finds her Uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis) who is in the assassination business. With some persuasion, he agrees to teach her the family trade, providing she goes to school. (It seems education really is helpful in all walks of life.) Fifteen years later, Cataleya works as a hired gun for her uncle and seeks revenge on her parents killers in her free time. Already she boasts 22 murders (though that doesnt appear to account for the numberless henchmen, bodyguards and other luckless beings caught in the crossfire).
In the ten years shes been systematically slaughtering the gunmen from her childhood, the police havent secured a single clue about the serial killer with the artistic flair. Finally frustrated with the lack of evidence, they release a photo of one victim with the lipstick illustration on his chest. The picture sparks little attention in the press but clearly puts Emilio on edge. He worries Cataleyas reckless desire for retribution is putting them all in danger.
But Cataleyas obsession isnt the biggest problem with this script|its the protagonists invincibility. This shrewd butcher picks off her victims like rubber ducks in a carnival game, scales buildings like Spider-Man (but without the cumbersome web), and makes Laura Croft look like an amateur Annie Oakley. And when shes not in executioner mode, the secretive Cataleya ferociously seduces her boyfriend (Michael Vartan) with whom she shares nothing but sexual favors.
Filled with sensuality, repetitive gunfire exchanges, booming explosions and dozens of bloody corpses, this predictable, murder-by-number plot is an assault not only on the senses but also on audience intelligence.