The way Hollywood works is evidenced by two movies opening Friday that weren't screened by a Times critic for Weekend review.
On this weekend in 2009, director Pierre Morel's thriller Taken debuted in theaters, becoming one of the year's most surprising box office hits. Taken was mostly set in picturesque Paris, featuring Liam Neeson as a deadly government agent cutting a swath through the Gallic underground. Hoping to mimic that success this weekend, Lionsgate presents Morel's From Paris With Love (R), starring John Travolta as a government agent shooting up the Champs-Elysées. Of course, Travolta's character is stopping a terrorist attack, not rescuing a kidnapped daughter like Neeson in Taken. That makes it a more original idea I guess (although James Bond has a tiny gripe about the title, after From Russia With Love). Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (TV's The Tudors) co-stars as a U.S. embassy paper shuffler getting his first crack at international spy stuff. A few violent rounds with Travolta's loose cannon should make that desk job seem enticing. A review of From Paris With Love is now available at entertainment.tampabay.com.
More proof of Hollywood's gift for repetition is Dear John (PG-13), which Screen Gems is selling on the fact that it's based on a book by Nicholas Sparks, whose novel The Notebook became a hit film. This one also involves a lot of deep feelings expressed on paper and read in voice-overs, judging from preview trailers. Soldiers receiving "Dear John" letters aren't happy about it, since that means their lovers have settled down with someone else. Channing Tatum (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) plays an Iraq War soldier named John, so letters from his girlfriend Savannah (Amanda Seyfried, Mamma Mia!) don't necessarily bring bad news. John and Savannah meet while he's on leave, fall in love and keep the love light burning through letters while he's overseas. Maybe. The postmark for Dear John could read "Tampa Bay," since three cast members have local ties. Tatum attended Gaither High School, graduated from Tampa Catholic and began his entertainment career as an exotic dancer. Mary Rachel Dudley is a St. Petersburg resident playing Seyfried's mother in the film — only one scene with dialogue and some background sightings. Tampa's Jose Lucena Jr. gets a tad more screen time as John's combat comrade.
— Steve Persall, Times film critic