Synopsis: The detective San Antonio and his faithful cohorts are locked in a race against time to defeat a terrorist plot against the President of France.
eyelights: its zest.
eyesores: its uninspired, discrepant score. its attempt to modernize the San-Antonio formula. its paint-by-numbers script. its flat humour.
I knew going in that ‘San-Antonio’ wouldn’t be a classic. I had given a copy of this film to a close friend of mine a couple of years ago and he had been disappointed with it. As a massive fan of Frédéric Dard’s original works, he was in a good position to judge.
But, having seen the 1966 and 1968 adaptations of San-Antonio, it only made sense to me to follow them up with the most recent one. Released in 2004, ‘San-Antonio’ was a huge disappointment at the box office. Given the popularity of the character and series, this was unexpected.
A large part of the problem is the troubled production. Initiated by Laurent Touil-Tartour, who was able to get the rights despite years of reticence from the original author, the picture was hobbled by disagreements between Touil-Tartour and his producer, Claude Berri.
Then came all cast changes. Gérard Depardieu, who was initially supposed to play Commissioner San-Antonio himself, switched to Inspector Bérurier, pushing out the original actor. Gérard Lanvin was dragged in to replace him at the last minute. Then half the cast quit.
Touil-Tartour ended up being fired from the director’s chair and was replaced by Frédéric Auburtin, who proceeded to revamp the whole film, included the script, thereby changing the film’s tone. Where Touil-Tartour understood the material, his successors certainly didn’t.
‘San-Antonio’ would end up being a buddy cop action comedy film with James Bond influences, a far cry from its source material. It was a flop, was renounced by some of its actors, including lead Gérard Lanvin, and is now considered a great regret for Claude Berri.
So I knew it wouldn’t be genius.
But I didn’t expect for this soulless concoction to produce so little enjoyment, despite its quick pace and desperate attempts at excitement and laughter. It was astounding just how uninvolved I was in the on-screen action and how little I laughed at their antics.
This iteration of San-Antonio finds the Commissioner getting fired over a mild screw-up, irrespective of his past achievements. Unemployed, he hangs about his brightly-lit, expensive home, aimless. That is, until the French President disappears and he’s convinced to look for him.
Unofficially. With only 24 hours to do the job.
Meanwhile, Bérurier has been given San-Antonio’s former job and is also tasked with finding the President. This finds our odd couple on parallel paths, but separately following entirely different leads. To compensate for this, Bérurier takes San-Antonio’s son as his partner.
Yes, San-Antonio has a son. And an equally reckless one at that.
In the meantime, San-Antonio picks up his own partner when he crosses paths with a street cleaner in whom he sees some inscrutable potential. Yes, a street cleaner. And he drags him along on his 24-hour mission even though he has no time to train him or anything.
Unsurprisingly, they will succeed in their mission – with the eventual help of Bérurier and San-Antonio, jr., naturellement. And, of course, San-Antonio and Bérurier will be reunited for a short time so that we can at least see them together; it wouldn’t be San-Antonio, otherwise.
That’s the main problem with ‘San-Antonio’: it just doesn’t seem very much like a San-Antonio adventure. If anything, it feels like a middle-of-the-road, low budget, action-comedy picture. You know the type: these forgettable b-movies litter the dustbins of eternity.
And, like most of those productions, it makes little sense. Case-in-point:
- How does San-Antonio afford such a home on a cop’s salary? And what about the uber-fancy sports car?
- Why was one of the kidnapping suspects just waiting there outside the crime scene, ready to be chased by San-Antonio?
- Why is the street cleaner just sitting there, on a bench, in front for the suspect’s home? How does he know whom San-Antonio is looking for, anyway?
- When the suspect dies, how does the street cleaner know? And why does he barge into her apartment, providing San-Antonio with her backstory?
- Why is the kidnappers’ Paris headquarters in the basement of the same home, deserted, and is set to ignite when infiltrated?
- How did the street cleaner manage to pick out the one essential book out of the HQ’s whole library – as it was burning and they were running out? Luck? Skill? Who cares?
- If they’re such great inspectors, why must they rely on the police lab technician to analyse their clues and move them along to the next step of their case? Perhaps because they needed a “Q” and some gadgets to make the picture more familiar?
And the list goes on and on and on, all the way to the impotent finale that takes place at the carnival in Rio de Janeiro. You know, to make the picture look more James Bond-ish (Except that nothing happens – not even the requisite action sequence or major twits. It just ends. !@#$).
At least Gérard Lanvin and Gérard Depardieu aren’t entirely terrible in their roles. Lanvin seems to be coasting, but at least is watchable. Depardieu, meanwhile, shouts and mugs for the camera a lot, but this iteration of Bérurier is an incompetent goof, so it works.
It’s just not San-Antonio, is all.
To make matters worse, the humour completely falls flat (including the incessant sexual gags that find our leads with various hotties). And the kind of action sequences that we get finds a bad guy surfing down a staircase on a door while San-Antonio, jr. swing on a fire hose.
Honest to goodness!
Finally, the soundtrack is not only trite (it’s all been heard elsewhere before), it’s so discrepant that it’s truly mind-boggling: for instance, who decided that it would make sense to throw in some sexy, jazzy music just as San-Antonio and Bérurier have a major falling out?
Look, I’ve seen worse films, but ‘San-Antonio’ is nothing remarkable. Its main fault, really, is that it fails to satisfy fans of the original by attempting to cater to the masses instead. Except that it does it so poorly that it ended up disappointing just about everyone in the process.
Date of viewing: January 10, 2016