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By Michael Calleri

A rarity in the world of European moviemaking, producer-director-screenwriter Luc Beeson is an industry unto himself. Working in France, he makes stylized action films that are as good as, and sometimes better than, those made by his American counterparts.

Beeson first drew attention with his 1985 "Subway," and he hasn't looked back. I like most of Beeson's films, which include "La Femme Nikita," "The Professional" (the one with Jean Reno and Natalie Portman), the zany "The Fifth Element," and "The Transporter" movies, especially the first and third editions.

In Beeson's latest, which he produced and co-wrote, Zoe Saldana plays a master assassin. The picture's called "Colombiana," and it has Beeson's usual sense of style and consistent characterizations. It's directed by Olivier Megaton and co-written by Robert Mark Kamen.

In Bogota, Colombia, a young girl named Cataleya Restrepo witnesses the savage murder of her parents. The kid flees to live with relatives in Chicago, where she asks her shifty Uncle Emilio to teach her how to kill. She wants revenge. Emilio OKs the training, but insists she also has to have a standard education. Can't have a dummy shooting machine guns.

The little girl grows up to be a killer. Saldana is fun to watch as a grown woman who knows her way around a car chase, a knife fight, and being a gun for hire.

Beeson and his team understand the importance of believable, riveting set pieces. "Colombiana" has one that's especially terrific. It's a very long, but very tense and quite engaging scene in which Cataleya gets herself arrested so that she can fulfill an order to execute a prisoner.

There's no denying that the violent movie requires a suspension of disbelief, but Beeson knows how to deliver the goods. His car chases are always a treat.

He also has a real understanding of the importance of peripheral characters. Cataleya has a boyfriend played by Michael Vartan. He has no idea she murders people for a living. Through it all, she maintains a laser-like focus on getting the mobster who killed her parents.

"Colombiana" is a solid action-adventure with an added bonus in that Saldana can act and makes for a terrific heroine. This is mindless escapist entertainment of the highest level. And that's a good thing.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Sept. 6, 2011