Halal Five-O: Film Review

Overcooked multicultural spoof fails to bring home its unifying message.

Revealing a side of France that’s seldom depicted in homegrown commercial movies, the couscous cop caper, starring the popular comic duo Eric Judor and Ramzy Bedia, will likely be remembered as a cultural studies artifact rather than as a successful comedy.

PARIS — Revealing a side of France that’s seldom depicted in homegrown commercial movies, the couscous cop caper Halal Five-O (Halal, police d’Etat) will likely be remembered as a cultural studies artifact rather than as a successful comedy. Its wide mid-February French release raked in adequate admissions but was still pummeled by Dany Boon’s Nothing to Declare, which continues to dominate local fare. Overseas prospects outside a few Francophone territories look slim.

Written by and starring Eric Judor and Ramzy Bedia -- who began in TV and radio before making a string of forgettable movies (Two Alone in Paris, Don’t Die Too Hard!) -- the script showcases the team’s sketch comedy roots by going from one outré gag to another, using anything from a slice of ham to a talking extraterrestrial in order to draw a laugh. Yet such laughs are few and far between, though the writers and first-time director Rachid Dhibou deserve some credit for using humor as a means to attack racial stereotypes prevalent in France today.

Traveling from Algeria to Paris to investigate the murder of one of their diplomats, the flamboyant Inspector Nerh-Nerh (Bedia) and his paranoid sidekick, Le Kabyle (Judor), find themselves competing against a tough commissaire (Jean-Pierre Lazzerini) and two cocksure detectives (Lannick Gautry, Frederic Chau) in a race to catch the killer. With suspects ranging from a band of Neo-Nazis to an old Chinese man who sells spring rolls under his overcoat, the knuckleheads will do anything to solve the case, including mistakenly waterboarding a key witness or concocting an ancient potion that backfires (in a scene clearly ripped off from Blake Edwards’ The Party).

Despite a sizeable shooting budget backed by Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, the film falls far below the standard set by The Naked Gun and other slapstick policiers. It’s so over-the-top that certain scenes -- especially those involving a creepy hotel manager (Jean-Baptiste Shelmerdine) a la Norman Bates -- are simply exhausting to sit through. Other moments, such as an extended gag involving gay porn and a house cat, are so surreal that they would almost be enjoyable if it weren’t for the overtly sloppy execution.

By bombarding the viewer with endless jokes about foreigners (mostly from North Africa, although Asians are targeted as well), the filmmakers try, in their own absurd way, to the reveal the universal goofiness linking all French and non-Frenchmen together. Yet such a message, however earnest, winds up getting lost in a story whose disparate ingredients have been tossed into a pot and then stirred until they nearly lose their flavor.

Opened: In France on Feb. 16
Production companies: EuropaCorp, 4 Mecs en Baskets Production, 4 Mecs a Lunettes Production
Cast: Ramzy Bedia, Eric Judor, Jean-Pierre Lazzerini, Anca Radici, Lannick Gautry, Frederic Chau, Jean-Baptiste Shelmerdine
Director: Rachid Dhibou
Screenwriters: Eric Judor, Ramzy Bedia
Producer: Luc Besson
Director of photography: Pascal Genesseaux
Production designer: Emmanuel Sorin
Costume designer: Aline Dupays
Editor: Julien Rey
Sales: EuropaCorp
No rating, 94 minutes

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