'The Squad' ('Antigang'): Film Review

SND

Jean Reno and Caterina Murino star in this action-packed French policier.

"We're in France, not the United States," clamors one of the trigger-happy cops in the new Gallic action dramedy, The Squad (Antigang). But this high-octane, mildly entertaining policier is about as American as it gets, from the endless on-the-job banter to the relentless pyrotechnics to the frenzied street shootouts straight out of Heat and the mind of mid-'90's Michael Bay. (Posters in the Paris metro boast that this is "finally a French film as exhilarating as Bad Boys.")

Whether director Benjamin Rocher (Goal of the Dead) has set the bar high or incredibly low is open to debate. Yet he certainly delivers loads of energy with this slickly helmed third feature, about a wrecking crew of Parisian detectives chasing down a team of robbers with guns blazing and one-liners to spare. A mid-August release should see limited business at home, while Rocher may have found a proper calling card to take him across the pond.

Although it's never mentioned in the press kit, the film is actually a remake of the 2012 Ray Winstone starrer, The Sweeney, itself an adaptation of the popular British TV series from the 1970's. (Writers Nick Love and John Hodge are credited here with the original script.) Taking the basic plot from that movie, scribes Tristan Schulman and Francois Loubeyre transplant the setting to present-day Paris, where seasoned gunslinger Buren (Jean Reno) and his wily sidekick, Cartier (Alban Lenoir), lead a band of badge-holding roughnecks who like to shoot first and ask questions later, if at all.

But their unorthodox tactics have fallen out of favor with new boss, Becker (Thierry Neuvic), who's trying to instill  a new level of discipline within the battalion. The fact that his wife -- fellow cop Margaux (Caterina Murino) -- is having an affair with Buren only complicates matters, as does a vicious robbery that leaves one victim dead and the whole precinct on the hunt for the killers.

It's a fairly boilerplate narrative that serves as a backbone for all the violent set-pieces and comic sidepieces, which alternate in quick succession as Buren and his boys hone in on the baddies. Rocher is hardly concerned with reality -- the film's depiction of the Paris police is totally absurd, if not borderline fascistic -- though he does want us to enjoy ourselves, and some of the gags (especially those involving Cartier's pocket-sized power) are cleverly staged.

Ditto for the shootouts, the most impressive of which comes midway through the movie when the cops chase the crooks in broad daylight around the massive wood, steel and glass towers of the Bibliotheque Nationale Francaise. Never have so many bullets come so close to so many books, as if Michael Mann and Michel Foucault joined forces to kick ass, and have a great time while doing so.

Such fun often comes at the expense of plausibility, though, and the film's tonal shifts between scenes of humor and despair are not always well handled, especially during the second half. Rocher nonetheless keeps things moving along swiftly enough, and the performances by veteran Reno and newcomer Lenoir (French Blood) are better than in your average Gallic commercial flick, even if the former indulges in some of his usual heavy-handed pathos.

Tech credits reveal the director's knack for filming bone-crunching action (already showcased in the underrated Goal of the Dead), with DP Jean-Francois Hensgens using widescreen to capture the gang's antics as Paris is transformed into the OK Corral, and a French movie into a Hollywood one.

Production companies: Capture (the Flag) Films, SND, Vertigo Films, M6 Films
Cast: Jean Reno, Caterina Murino, Alban Lenoir, Thierry Neuvic, Stefi Celma
Director: Benjamin Rocher
Screenwriters: Tristan Schulman, Francois Loubeyre, based on the original screenplay by Nick Love and John Hodg
Producers: Raphael Rocher, Henri Debeurme, Thierry Desmichelle, Lionel Uzan, James Richardson, Allan Niblo
Director of photography: Jean-Francois Hensgens
Production designer: Laure Lepelley-Monbillard
Costume designers: Marion Moules, Matthieu Camblor
Editors: Sebastien de Sainte Croix, Dimitri Amar
Composer: Laurent Perez Del Mar
Casting director: Michael Laguens
International sales: SND

No rating, 90 minutes

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