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Dany Boon— who is fast becoming the French equivalent of Adam Sandler, especially in his steady output of increasingly bad movies — delivers a brain-dead big budget comedy with Superchondriac (Supercondriaque), a film that takes a good premise and winds up sending it straight to the intensive care ward. Not that the actor-writer-director, whose 2008 breakout hit Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis remains the highest grossing Gallic film of all time, won’t find a decent local audience with this story of a 40-something loser besot with endless imaginary maladies. But at a cost of €31.5 million ($43 million), it’s hard to see this awfully tedious fourth feature turning a major theatrical profit, especially outside the usual Francophone stomping grounds.
Things start off with some promise, at least for the first reel, when we’re introduced to Romain (Boon), a man so panicked about catching germs that he causes a major ruckus on New Year’s Eve and then winds up in the hospital anyway. Constantly monitoring his state of health while overmedicating himself to no end, Romain only has two real friends in the world: his doctor, Dimitri (Kad Merad), who puts up with his patient’s antics out of sheer exhaustion, and Marc (Jonathan Cohen), a fun-loving party boy who works with Romain as a medical encyclopedia photographer.
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When Marc suddenly dies of a brain aneurism, Romain’s psychosomatic bouts become completely unmanageable, and Dimitri is forced to take him in, much to the chagrin of his wife (Judith El Zein) and dog, but even more so to the audience. Because it’s at this point that Boon’s movie begins to fly off the rails, losing sight of its initially intriguing concept to tell another story entirely, involving Romain’s desperate housewife of a sister, Anna (Alice Pol), a rebel leader (Jean-Yves Berteloot) from the fictional land of Turkystan, and at least an hour’s worth of jokes that feature Boon imitating a Russian accent and making funny faces at the camera.
It’s sort of shocking how far the film strays from its original pitch, and how much liberty Boon seems to have to shoot whatever he wants at whatever cost. (That’s what you get when your second feature scored 20.5 million admissions in France, second only to Titanic in all-time local box office cume.) You want a scene where boatloads of immigrants arrive in France and risk spreading their germs all over Romain? Or how about one set in a Turkystan prison, followed by a machine gun battle in the streets?
With complete carte blanche, Boon takes things too far and loses sight of what was interesting about his film to begin with: showing how a middle-aged man suffering from hypochondria can cope with everyday life. And while he’s able to mine the idea for a few good jokes early on — especially one or two involving a bottle of Purell, and a blind date scene (with Valerie Bonneton) that quickly turns slapstick — his brand of humor becomes so outlandish that it just gets boring, with every character a caricature of themselves, especially Romain and the embarrassingly shallow Anna.
While there’s some precedent to Boon’s style of comedy, especially in the work of Louis de Funes, he never manages to channel the uncomfortable sense of loathing and selfishness that the Gendarme star specialized in, even if he tries to mimic the latter’s facial tics and spastic outbursts. Instead, Boon can’t help but playing everybody’s favorite, lovable loser, and he winds up inserting a very Hollywood kind of ending into a very French kind of set-up, resulting in a zero sum game for all involved.
Performances are turned up several notches, with regular counterpart Merad (The Chorus) playing the only sane person on screen, at least until the last act. Tech credits are highly polished, allowing the costly Franco-Belgian production to hop between key Paris locations and gaudy set-pieces, especially the Third World hellhole where Romain is forced to face his greatest fears all by himself.
Production companies: Pathe, Les Productions du Ch’timi, TF1 Films Productions, Artemis Productions
Cast: Dany Boon, Kad Merad, Alice Pol, Jean-Yves Berteloot, Judith El Zein, Valerie Bonneton
Director, screenwriter: Dany Boon
Producer: Jerome Seydoux
Director of photography: Romain Winding
Production designer: Alain Veissier
Costume designer: Laetitia Bouix
Editor: Monica Coleman
Music: Klaus Badelt
Artistic collaboration: Yael Boon
Sales agent: Pathe
No rating, 107 minutes
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