By Drew Taylor | The Playlist July 28, 2011 at 3:06AM
"French thriller" is one of those phrases, like "German chocolate" and "Swedish pop record," that inspires enthusiastic excitement even when, perhaps, it shouldn't. Take, for example, this week's "Point Blank," directed by Fred Cavayé (whose "Pour Elle" was remade as Paul Haggis' pitiable "The Next Three Days"), which from the outset seemed to carry with it all the trademarks of a great French thriller – energetic, stylish, edgy. It's being marketed as the next "Tell No One," Guillaume Canet's massive crossover hit. But unlike that film, "Point Blank" isn't based on a best selling American novel and also, it's just not very good.
The film starts off intriguingly enough, as we watch two dark-skinned men, one clutching his side, run through the Parisian night. They're followed by a couple of severe looking white dudes, and when this breathless chase comes to an end, one of the dark-skinned men has fled the scene, while the other has been hit by a car. As the title sequence flashes on screen we're not sure of the man's fate – whether or not he's alive or dead – and what, exactly, landed him in such a predicament in the first place. Intrigue! Mystery! Suspense! It all abounds…for a little while, at least.
We're next introduced to Samuel (Gilles Lellouche), who is training to be a nurse as he chats with his adorable pregnant wife (Elena Anaya from "Sex and Lucia" and Pedro Almodovar's forthcoming "The Skin I Live In"). He tells her that she's got to take it easy for the next few weeks, kisses her on the forehead and heads off to work.
It's at the hospital that we see that the injured man, who we have at least gathered is some kind of burglar and whose name is Sartet (Roschdy Zem). After Samuel saves Sartet's life from those same severe looking white dudes from the opening (they cut off his oxygen supply), Samuel receives a small amount of attention but thinks nothing of it, returning home to embrace his very pregnant wife. Except that when he gets home he sees his apartment ransacked and his wife missing. He's assaulted, and when he comes to a gravely voice on the other end of the phone informs him of his mission – he's got to break Sartet out of the hospital, even though he's under heavy police protection, and deliver him to a specified place. Otherwise, the man on the phone says, they will kill his wife.
Now, if you're already asking yourself, is kidnapping a nurse's wife and forcing him, an everyday schlub, to break a burglar out of a hospital, the kind of unnecessarily convoluted scheme that only happens in these types of movies, in which the swiftness of the plot clearly overrides the practicality of it, you're right. In fact, it's such a boldly false move that it'll take a little while to get over, if the rest of the movie wasn't so silly and the ending so anticlimactic. As it stands, this initial salvo, a riff on the everyday hero of the kind of grand conspiracies Hitchcock would orchestrate, stands as a warning sign of things to come.
For the rest of the film's mercifully brief running time, Sartet and Samuel learn to become allies (uneasily, of course) and get to the heart of the conspiracy, which is so dull and explained so quickly, that it doesn't much matter at all. If you're thinking that the relationship of the two leads are ripe for some kind of socio-political commentary, since Sartet clearly seems to be Muslim and Samuel very, very French, well, you're wrong. There could have been some pointed metaphor here, especially given France's contentious relationship with its Muslim population, but in the land of pulpy French thrillers, momentum trumps symbolism every time.
By the time the movie reaches its lackluster conclusion, all the fizz has been released from this pop entertainment, and the whole thing has gone flat. There have been scores of villainous characters introduced – crooked cops badly in need of a shave, a svelte gangster – but, like the rest of the movie, none of them have made much of an impression. While the American remake rights have already been sold off, this is the rare French film whose American cover might be a marked improvement over the original. [C-]