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Lovable yet easily irritable French comic star Kad Merad has lined up a string of hits (Welcome to the Sticks, The Chorus) and misses (Bangkok, We Have a Problem!, F.B.I. Frog Butthead Investigators) over the past decade, with each new summer bringing a new broad studio comedy for him to headline. This year is no exception, with Merad playing the lead role in the fun if facile Looking For Teddy, a caper about two complete strangers who join forces to find a missing stuffed animal. (Note: The original title, Le Doudou, is the word French kids use to describe such toys. For obvious reasons the title was changed for English-language consumption.)
Written and directed by Julien Herve and Philippe Mechelen — the minds behind the highly successful, borderline unwatchable Tuche comedies, which have grossed more than 10 million admissions in France thus far — this slick and silly romp has a few memorable moments but also lots of eye-rolling ones. Once again, it gives Merad the chance to play a nice guy with a short temper caught in a bad situation, teaming up with stand-up comic Malik Bentalha on an escapade that takes them from the depths of Charles de Gaulle airport to the heart of Paris and the French countryside, then back again. Light on its feet at 82 minutes, the Pathe release underperformed at home, while its premise has remake potential if someone manages to upgrade the jokes.
Merad stars as a schlumpy 50-something urban planner named Michel, who, for reasons revealed later on in a brazenly sentimental twist, is obsessed with locating the teddy bear his daughter lost at CDG. He soon meets Sofiane, an airport porter and all-around schemer who thinks he can dupe Michel out of some cash but eventually joins him in his cuddly quest. The two cross paths with a host of wacky characters, some of them rather hilarious, — especially a Catholic human rights advocate played by comic Elie Semoun — some of them rather annoying, such as a suicidal young aristocrat (Gabriel Washer) who whines his way through the end of the second act.
Unlike many French comedians, Merad knows how to underplay his parts, raising his voice only when necessary as he wearily observes the absurdity around him. (The actor has stepped into more dramatic roles recently, playing the lead in the acclaimed TV series Baron noir.) He doesn’t have a whole lot to work with here, but in the least the filmmakers keep things moving along without too much hassle, while tossing in a few funny sight gags involving a CCTV video and an unwieldy German Shepherd.
While the airport sequences offer up amusing sketches of the people who work there, the film loses its rhythm once it heads to other locations, and the directors probably would have done better by sticking to a single setting. Still, compared to the over-the-top Tuche flicks, this film at least shows a minor level of tact, even if things get too sappy during an overwrought finale that heads exactly where you expect. Like many a high-concept French comedy, Teddy takes a decent concept and rushes it to the screen without bothering to get the script right, and the result is a few good gags mixed with lots of caricature and phony sentiment.
Bentahla, who headlined the dreadful Taxi 5, has a lively presence here that works as a nice counterpoint to Merad’s sad-sack shenanigans. Comic Romain Lancry co-stars as another nutjob working at de Gaulle and winds up stealing most of his scenes, while David Salles plays a security guard who deserves to be locked in the kennel with his dog.
Production companies: Eskwad, Pathe, TF1 Films Production, Gialla Productions
Cast: Kad Merad, Malik Bentalha, Romain Lancry, David Salles, Guy Marchand
Directors, screenwriters: Julien Herve, Philippe Mechelen
Producer: Richard Grandpierre
Executive producer: Frederic Doniguian
Director of photography: Stephane Le Parc
Production designer: Jean-Marc Tran Tan Ba
Costume designer: Emmanuelle Youchnovski
Editor: Stephan Couturier
Composer: Herve Rakotofiringa
Sales: Pathe Films
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