In which Johnny Depp’s wife, Vanessa Paradis, who once had a very promising acting career when she starred in Patrice Leconte’s The Girl on the Bridge, more or less returns to acting. It features a smart high concept for a romantic comedy: a good-looking, young bachelor seduces women into falling in love with him to break up their current relationships for paid clients. Think Hitch in reverse, but with a little more European honesty regarding gender politics and a little less American showmanship and phony spit-polish. At least that’s what I had been assuming going in.
Unfortunately, what we have here isn’t something that benefits from the honesty of the frank sexual politics of European cinema, but the exact opposite. This is a film that wants to be an American romantic comedy so badly that it references both George Michael and Dirty Dancing multiple times, and uses such staples of bad 80s cinema as “inept undercover con men in disguise” and “periodic run-in with Mafia who want money returned, where likable lead must escape in lame-and-unfunny attempt at minor comedic set piece.” Even the comedic high concept, which should provide plenty of story opportunities, quickly devolves into the lead posing as Paradis’ bodyguard and attempting to covertly woo her and win her heart over the period of a few days. Will he fall in love with her, this “bad boy” whose main rule is to never develop genuine affection for his subjects? Could this potentially ruin his career and rock his world? Will any cliche be left unmined?
What it does have going for it are the two leads. Vanessa Paradis is likable enough, but she’s saddled with a bland, stale, rather two-dimensional character that doesn’t provide her with enough opportunities to build the role into something more. Romain Duris has much more to work with from the page, and he has a natural charm and charisma that surpasses the stereotypical handsome face and GQ lantern-jawline of many an L.A. douchebag, which is the kind of character Alex Lippi at first appears to be, and no doubt would be in an American remake. Paradis’ fiancee is played by Andrew Lincoln, now-familiar to audiences as Rick Grimes in AMC’s The Walking Dead, who here employs his natural British accent. Part of the problem is that Lincoln’s character Jonathan Alcott is a likable enough guy, and ultimately Paradis’ Juliette Van Der Becq decides she shouldn’t be with him because he’s too boring. For all of his dedication and commitment to her, and that fact that she has been engaged to him for some time before the film begins, that doesn’t really seem like enough of a fatal flaw to be the turning point of the film– not when the movie’s about a con man who breaks up couples for a living. Alex works the whole movie to find Alcott’s fatal flaw, can’t find one, and then Juliette leaves him anyway because she decides he’s too boring? If anything, this makes her character come off as shallow, and sabotages the genuineness of any final pairing between the two leads. And even though Duris the actor may do a pretty decent job of lending the character of Alex as much credibility and emotional honesty as he can, the character is still a bit of a phony as he’s written on the page, and that’s ultimately inescapable.
The final product is a bundle of bad romantic comedy cliches all tied together, from the kinds of movies you’d have seen getting high replay across the premium cable channels during the mid-late 1980s. The subplots featuring Alex’s sister and her husband are exactly the kind of bad bumbling slapstick you’d also have seen in those very same bad 80s films. Perhaps the writers and director of this film are simply aficionados of bad American movies, and if so, then they were successful in making the kind of film they love. But for anyone else, it’s simply an hour and forty-five minutes spent watching trite mediocrity, even when it is high energy and upbeat. The desire to entertain is certainly present, and that’s the workhorse that generates as much good will for this movie as it’s able to manufacture. But anything resembling sharp intelligence or a creative reinterpretation of genre cliches, not so much. I’m generously giving it the most modest of recommendations (a 6/10), for an opening sequence that sets up Alex’s profession and professional attitude, and for Romain Duris in general.