Case Depart: Film Review

A bold if often reckless attempt to combine slavery and comedy.

'Bill & Ted' type comedy about two Frenchmen who are transported into the late 18th century and quickly sold into slavery.

PARIS -- When it comes to comedy, French films have traditionally been rather colorblind, failing to address the grievances of their nation's minorities in the same way they have tackled the sexual woes of well-to-do Parisians. This may in part explain the surprise success of Case Depart, an outre, Bill & Ted's-style take on slavery and colonization that has raked in more than 1.6 million admissions since its release early July. While overseas prospects remain weak, the film deserves credit for hitting upon a topic rarely explored in Gallic cinema.

Dropping enough n-bombs to offend viewers who consider themselves to be even mildly politically correct, this barrage of over-the-top, racially bent gags is the product of Cameroon-origin comics Fabrice Eboue and Thomas Tgijol, who co-wrote (along with Jerome L'Hostky) and directed (along with Lionel Steketee), while also playing the lead roles. Indeed, the duo's background in radio and TV is clearly evident in what feels like a Saturday Night Live sketch expanded to feature length, with a high concept plot held together by little more than its taboo subject matter.

When half-brothers Regis (Eboue) and Joel (Tgijol) travel from the banlieue to the French Antilles to visit their estranged father on his death bed, they receive an unlikely inheritance: the official document which freed their ancestors from slavery. But neither Regis, a brown-nosing city bureaucrat, nor Joel, a petty thief who still lives with his mother, seem to appreciate the gesture. When they decide to tear up the paper, their witch doctor of an aunt (Isabel del Carmen Solar Montalvo) casts a spell that propels them to the late 18th century, where they're quickly rounded up and sold on the auction block to a local master (Etienne Chicot).

From that point on, the film tries to maintain a rhythm of one gag per minute as the two knuckleheads search for a way back to the present day. While half the jokes focus on Regis and Joel having to cope with life on the plantation, the rest deal with the family of wig-wearing Frenchies they're enslaved to. These latter bits go particularly far, with the white characters spouting almost every racial epithet imaginable, including several aimed at the prospective size of their workers/prisoners' genitalia. Another, outlandish sequence has the two bros piloting the fornication of their great-great-great grandparents in order to establish their own lineage.

If the moral of Case Depart seems to be that contemporary French blacks have it a lot better off than their forefathers, it's nearly lost amid such outsized and often moronic behavior, even if certain jokes manage to hit their marks. And though it's encouraging that the filmmakers use laughter as a means to present this seldom-seen side of Gallic history, the blatant homophobia of certain characters could lead one to believe that for Eboue and Ngijol, there may be fates worse than enslavement.

Tech contributions are crisp and TV-friendly, with a score from Alexandre Azaria (Transporter 3) that keeps things moving. French title is a play on words that can be roughly translated as "Starting Hut."

Opened: In France (July 6)
Production companies: Legende, Legende Films, TF1 Films Production, Mars Films
Cast: Fabrice Eboue, Thomas Ngijol, Stefi Celma, Eriq Ebouaney, Etienne Chicot, Catherine Hosmalin, David Slalles, Franck de la Personne
Directors: Lionel Steketee, Fabrice Eboue, Thomas Ngijol
Screenwriters: Fabrice Eboue, Thomas Ngijol, Jerome L'Hostky
Producer: Ilan Goldman
Director of photography: Jean-Claude Aumont
Production designer: Christian Marti
Music: Alexandre Azaria
Costume designer: Pierre-Jean Larroque, Gilles Bodu-Le Moine
Editor: Frederique Olszak
Sales Agent: Other Angle Pictures
No rating, 95 minutes

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