Asterix at Olympic Games

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PARIS -- The cast list is one to die for. The makers of "Asterix at the Olympic Games," the third in the franchise featuring Gaul's favorite comic book hero, have lined up Alain Delon, Gerard Depardieu, Clovis Cornillac, Jose Garcia, Benoit Poelvoorde and Jean-Pierre Cassel, and that's only the actors.

Famous names from other fields who bolster the project include Michael Schumacher and Jean Todt (motor racing), Zinedine Zidane (soccer), Tony Parker (basketball) and Adriana Karembeu (fashion). Trailed on YouTube months in advance, backed with a massive publicity budget, opening simultaneously on 5,000 screens throughout Europe -- including more than 1,000 in France, the movie, boasting a record budget upward of $100 million, appears certain to pack them in. Nevertheless, the question must be asked: Is it any good?

Perhaps the fairest that can be said is that it's a curate's egg of a movie -- good in parts. While Asterix III is unlikely to win the praise of critics as its predecessor, "Asterix & Obelix Meet Cleopatra," did five years ago, it provides plenty of gags and visual trickery to please children, adolescents and celebrity-spotters and contains at least one noteworthy performance.

When the young Gallic swain Alafolix (Stephane Rousseau) plights his troth to the beautiful Greek princess Irina (Vanessa Hessler), he finds himself in competition with Brutus (Poelvoorde), the ambitious son of Julius Caesar (Delon), to whom she has been promised by her father. To settle the dispute, though she loves Alafolix, Irina says she will give her hand to whichever of the two wins the sports tournament about to take place on Mount Olympus. Asterix (Cornillac) and Obelix (Depardieu) lead a Gallic delegation to compete against teams from Rome, Greece, Egypt, Spain and other parts of the then-known world. Meanwhile, in a parallel strand, the buffoonish Brutus is scheming to get rid of his father by any possible means, including poison, in order to succeed him.

If the plot lacks subtlety, so do the gags, not to say that none of them are funny. The humor is hit-and-miss, with plenty of misses, and the jokey references to modern French pop songs will pass over the heads of foreign audiences.

What first-time director Thomas Langmann and his co-director Frederic Forestier succeed best in providing is a sense of spectacle. They make abundant and effective use of SFX and computer-generated imagery to produce an array of cartoonish effects, culminating in a chariot race that owes nothing to "Ben-Hur." The movie lacks pace -- 15 minutes could have been trimmed -- and that it nonetheless hangs together is mainly because of the efforts of Poelvoorde, the one actor who has a genuine comic talent. He plays Brutus as a cross between Caligula and Jerry Lewis and is the best reason for seeing the movie, apart from taking the kids.

ASTERIX AT THE OLYMPIC GAMES
Pathe Distribution (France)
Pathe Renn production, La Petite Reine, TF1 Films production, Tri Pictures, Sorolla Films, Constantin Film, Novo RPI
Credits:
Directors: Frederic Forestier, Thomas Langmann
Screenwriters: Alexandre Charlot, Franck Magnier, Olivier Dazat, Thomas Langmann
Based on the comic book by: Rene Goscinny, Albert Uderzo
Producers: Jean-Lou Monthieux, Pierre Grunstein
Director of photography: Thierry Arbogast
Editor: Yannick Kergoat
Production designer: Aline Bonetto
Costume designer: Madeline Fontaine
Music: Frederic Talgorn
Cast:
Asterix: Clovis Cornillac
Obelix: Gerard Depardieu
Brutus: Benoit Poelvoorde
Julius Caesar: Alain Delon
Alafolix: Stephane Rousseau
Princess Irina: Vanessa Hessler
Couverdepus: Jose Garcia
Assurancetourix: Franck Dubosc
Panoramix: Jean-Pierre Cassel
Alpha: Luca Bizzarri
Omega: Elie Semoun
Humungus: Nathan Jones
Running time -- 117 minutes
No MPAA rating
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