RATING |

When it comes to killing terrorists, movies seem content to let TV have all the fun.

Kiefer Sutherland kills like 50 of them a week on Fox's "24," for which he is widely watched and handsomely paid.

Movies, on the other hand, seem very squeamish on the subject, and are certainly loath to approach the subject with the pulp glee of a genre flick.

I suppose Hollywood is nervous about how such a film might be regarded around the world. Frenchman Pierre Morel, on the other hand, is apparently free of these apprehensions, as we see in the freewheeling "From Paris with Love."

Morel may be the West's premier director of action ("Taken," "District B13") and he unleashes his talent, and an apparently much larger budget, on the story of a U.S. agent who smashes a terrorist cell in Paris and many parts of Paris itself.

He also unleashes John Travolta, who in this movie plays a 'roid-ragey version of "24's" Jack Bauer named Charlie Wax. He's burly, bald, profane, and is often photographed in slo-mo, running through rooms with arms spread, shooting automatic weapons in both directions, killing everything he doesn't look at, never getting hit.

This is the scenery-chewing Travolta from "Broken Arrow," in which he launched a Web site by shrugging off nuclear Armageddon and saying, "Ain't it cool?"

Well, no, it ain't. I prefer Travolta when he's under the top, not over it, but there is no modulating either him or Morel in this nutty movie.

"From Paris with Love" shapes up as a strange sort of buddy flick that begins when an embassy geek and wannabe spy (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is assigned to escort the bombastic Wax on a classified visit to Paris.

The mission is purported to have something to do with drugs, but after Wax destroys a coke lab and murders about a hundred Chinese, he soon moves on to terrorists, lugging a bazooka while the baffled, emasculated embassy suit toddles after him with a Ming vase full of cocaine, in case Wax needs a pick-me-up.

As the story of a gregarious American who makes Paris his own, the movie is certainly livelier than "Julie and Julia." And there is something striking in the way Morel seems to enjoy the idea of a Yank smashing through the City of Lights in his gigantic Escalade.

I have to admit to feeling let down, though, by the usually inventive Morel, who in "Paris" seems content to borrow from the standard action-movie playbook. Did I mention that Travolta runs though rooms in slow motion, shooting in both directions?

On the other hand, Morel makes evocative use of French locales, and of gorgeous French women, who always seem to be ready with a massage, or a delicious meal.