Synopsis: This French comedy parodies horror movies and detective films. It is set at the Cannes Film Festival. There, Odile, a sincere publicist, tries to promote the horror movie “Red Is Dead.” The movie tells of a killer in a welding mask who wields a hammer and sickle with deadly results. The trouble begins when a real killer with the same m.o. begins knocking off projectionists at market screenings. In true publicist form, Odile immediately brings the film’s star to the festival. To protect him, Odile hires a handsome bodyguard. Odile finds herself romanced by a police commissioner. Meanwhile a stranger lurks in the distance.
eyelights: The completely goofy and dim-witted runt, star of movie-in-movie ‘Red is Dead’. The earnestness of the lead actors.
eyesores: Dated references that root the film in another time and place.
I picked up ‘La cité de la peur’ (translation: “Fear City”) based solely on the mild recommendation of a store clerk in Montréal. I knew nothing of the film, had never ever heard of it before and recognized none of its cast or crew.
But I did like the poster for some reason. And I was reeled in by the name of the comedy trio that it featured: Les Nuls (“The Nobodies” or “The Dummies”). They advertised ‘La cité de la peur’ as “a film of” Les Nuls, which amused me, if only for its grammar.
I came close to watching it very shortly thereafter, but reconsidered when I realised that it actually had a horror vibe to it. Then I decided to wait until my traditional October horror fiesta so as to lighten the proceedings. As it turns out, incapable of waiting any longer, it actually inaugurated the series.
Well, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised with the results.
Considering how little I knew about it, and in light of the tepid praise tossed my way, it turned out quite alright. Lord knows that it could have been quite the lemon; comedy being such a crapshoot, I knew very well that it might end up being extremely lame or of a different style of humour than I can handle.
Thankfully, it turns out that ‘La cité de la peur’ is akin to the Zucker-Zucker-Abraham brand of comedy, except less manic, and must surely have been influenced by the comedy legends’ films – not only do they offer a fully-fleshed narrative, but they also incorporate straight-men and parodic homages in their comedic manoeuvres.
That is not to say that Les Nuls are anywhere near the calibre of the mad geniuses behind ‘Airplane’, ‘The Kentucky Fried Movie’ and ‘Police Squad!’. Hardly: the parody is well-meaning, but frequently pointless, the gags don’t fly by as furiously, and the humour isn’t as kooky and crazy as you would want it to be sometimes.
But it’s still very funny in bits, even as it flirts with corniness from time to time.
As I think of ‘La cité de la peur’, I can’t help but recollect Dominique Farrugia (who plays ‘Red is Dead’ actor Simon Jérémi), and his blissfully imbecilic mug. The character is a simpleton who casually enjoys all the hubbub surrounding the film that they’ve released, letting the publicist handle everything and just going along for the ride. He’s a delightfully goofy guy who brightens every scene he’s in.
…except when he’s extremely happy. Because, when he gets too happy, he gets nervous, and when he gets nervous, he tends to lose his lunch – which, amusingly enough, doesn’t deter from his enjoyment whatsoever: Simon takes it all in stride. Everyone else, however, has to contend with his gastric carelessness as well as the spontaneity and frequency of his anxiety attacks.
Other than that, the cast is enjoyable, but not especially endearing or memorable:
– Alain Chabat plays the bodyguard in a manner that is reminiscent of Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau: self-assured, professional, but not particularly bright. The only thing is that Chabat is no Sellers, and he doesn’t finesse the character or take him to outrageous extremes.
– Chantal Lauby incarnates her character, an ambitious doormat of a publicist who is desperately trying to land herself a big hit. She is adequate, and it’s quite nice to see a woman playing comedy of this sort without being a floozy or a cliché. However, she didn’t offer anything out of the ordinary.
– Gérard Darmon is the inspector on the case, and he has an intriguing physiognomy and presence that screams screen time. However, either he wasn’t in top form or the material wasn’t suited to him, but his character flailed about more than it should have. He should have owned his scenes, but didn’t.
The story itself is really just an excuse for a series of gags or silly exchanges between characters, but it ties together nicely enough. Granted, the murder mystery isn’t especially complex and it’s easy to see the resolution coming a fair distance away, but the picture isn’t as contrived as some comedies can be, and not as convoluted as standard whodunits often are.
So, all in all, it’s a fun time with Les Nuls. It’s not the greatest film ever made, not the funniest, not the most memorable, but it has a lot of comical moments sprinkled throughout as well as more than a handful of veritably hilarious ones.
I would only recommend this picture to select few people, such as fans of the aforementioned Zucker-Zucker-Abraham films and Francophiles, mind you. But, personally, I know for sure that I will revisit ‘La cité de la peur’ from time to time.
Date of viewing: September 16, 2012