Synopsis: Francis Veber directs this hilarious comedy about Francois (Pierre Richard), a desperate, novice, bumbling bank robber who takes an ex-con hostage during his attempted hold-up. They are both chased by the police. Jean (Gerard Depardieu) plays the convicted bank robber just released from jail and forced to escape with Francois. Anais Bret portrays Francois’ 6-year-old autistic daughter, and is the reason why he needed money so badly that he would steal for it. An inventive series of farcical situations and witty dialogue keeps the two men moving one step and several missteps ahead of the police.
Les Fugitifs 7.75
Pierre Richard has made a few French comedy classics in his time. Some of them were popular enough to be remade by Hollywood, in fact: ‘Le grand blond avec une chaussure noire’ became one of Tom Hanks’ earlier efforts, ‘The Man With One Red Shoe’; ‘Les compères’ became ‘Fathers’ Day’, featuring Robin Williams and Billy Crystal, ‘Le jouet’ became ‘The Toy’ featuring Jackie Gleason and Richard Pryor, ‘La chèvre’ became ‘Pure Luck’, featuring Danny Glover and Martin Short, while ‘Les fugitifs’ became ‘The Three Fugitives’, featuring Nick Nolte and Martin Short.
When I was a kid, Radio-Canada, the francophone branch of Canada’s public broadcaster, had some Pierre Richard festivals, featuring one of his films every week for a few months. Or maybe it was every night for a couple of weeks (my recollection of this is hazy – it has been three decades since, after all). My family would look forward to the next one and would make a point of watching as many of them as we could.
Clearly, we weren’t alone – or else we an investment of time and resources wouldn’t have been made by Radio-Can. But there doesn’t seem to be any traces of this interest now. Case-in-point: Pierre Richard movies have been released on DVD, which would suggest that there’s a market for them, and yet I can hardly ever find anyone who knows of the man. Bizarre, bizarre.
I recently went on a shopping spree in Montréal and found a couple of boxed set of Pierre Richard films. Seeing as they were cheap, and one of them contained not only two classics but also a retrospective documentary on the actor/director, I decided to pick them up. I figured that they would help complete my collection and provide more insight into this ’70s and ’80s French icon.
I decided to begin with ‘Les Fugitifs’ because it’s probably the most popular and oft-mentioned one of the bunch. I figured that it might be a good idea to start on the right foot – after all, even though I’m a small fan, I know that Pierre Richard’s films can be very hit-or-miss; it’s always a gamble, and one won’t always come out a winner. Often, but not always.
‘Les Fugitifs’ tells the story of two men, one who has been incarcerated for multiple robberies and, after five years in the slammer, has decided to come clean; and the other, who, in a desperate attempt to help get some money to take care of his daughter, foolishly decides to attempt a bank robbery. Unfortunately, the former ends up in the bank that the other robs, and winds up being his hostage. And that’s how these two mismatched men become fugitives from the law, taking us on a wild romp in the process.
It’s an amusing, light action film. What’s great about it is that most of what takes place is relatively credible – as opposed to many such films who insist on making everything larger-than-life for the sake of greater thrills and getting bigger laughs. What writer-director Veber does here is throw in a little bit of nonsense or absurdity along the way to elicit chuckles, but one could say that it’s more of a drama bordering on light comedy.
It makes for a good mix as much as Gérard Depardieu and Pierre Richard make for a good team, with the former playing the straight man to the latter’s goofy and inept character. It’s hardly surprising that they ended up making three films together and that all three were remade by Hollywood (with varying degrees of success); there was a seemingly effortless chemistry between them.
Unfortunately, they were dragged down by their partner in crime, so to speak, by the little girl who plays Jeanne, Richard’s daughter in the film. I don’t want to harp on a little girl, but she was slightly catatonic, lifeless. Her character has developmental issues, so this is perfect for the times when she’s supposed to remain silent and expressionless, but this child couldn’t do anything else – she was a one-trick pony who could barely blurt a short line, sometimes even a mere word.
Still, she didn’t ruin the film – she was strictly a hinderance to my enjoyment. The film breezes along nicely until the last act when Richard is expected to pretend to be Depardieu’s spouse and mother to little Jeanne, who’s now passing for a boy. This was completely incredible to anyone taking even a quick look at Richard in drag – no one could ever mistake him for a woman. And yet, some of the film’s characters did – and enough so that a couple of lame misunderstandings were chucked at us for chuckles.
If not for this last bit of the film, I would have easily given it an 8.0 rating. It’s quite an enjoyable film on many counts: it has character development, action, laughs, solid acting (both comedic and dramatic), a well-thought out story and a nice pace. ‘Les Fugitifs’ may have been the last of the Depardieu/Richard tag teams, but it’s was quite a fitting way for them to go.