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Apparently, the Beverly Hillbillies formula — or the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air conceit, if you weren’t born yet in the 1960s — never gets old. In fact, most countries in the Western world seem to have at least one variation on the unrefined-yokels-suddenly-come-into-money story. In France, director Olivier Baroux made a first film about the Tuches, a backwater clan living it up in Monaco after winning the lottery, back in 2011, when it sold a very respectable 1.5 million tickets.
Fast-forward five years and the family is back, in the (grammatically wonky) title The Tuche: The American Dream (Les Tuche 2: Le reve americain), in which the youngest of the clan, Donald, is studying in California. At school, he meets a girl from a rich family and — you guessed it — has to pretend he comes from a refined background. Cue the surprise family visit and lame gags involving a random collection of U.S.A. clichés, ranging from the Klu Klux Klan and the Amish to a Las Vegas Elvis impersonator-slash-wedding-officiant.
Though vastly inferior to its already hokey predecessor, this sequel scored a shocking 1.5 million admissions during its first weekend and dropped just 20% in its second week. No doubt, the producers at Eskwad and Pathé are already planning a slate of sequels and spinoffs that will make Marvel’s upcoming release schedule look positively empty. God help French cinema.
Unemployed layabout Jeff (Jean-Paul Rouve), whose instructions to his hairdresser must have been “I’ll have a Richard Simmons, extra large,” is married to Cathy (Isabelle Nanty), a Rubenesque hausfrau. Together, they spawned the shapely beauty queen and wannabe actress Stephanie (Sarah Stern), the sort-of-closeted wannabe rapper Wilfried (Pierre Lottin), aka Tuche Daddy, and the precocious and industrious Donald, aka Quack-Quack (Theo Fernandez, encoring like the rest of the cast). The latter’s name/nickname combo — think Duck! — is a good barometer of the film’s sense of humor, which is puerile and naive whenever it’s not straightforwardly moronic.
Like part one, Quack-Quack narrates the story at the start and the end and is largely forgotten about in the 80 or so minutes in between, both as a character and a narrator. At the start of part deux, Donald’s living in or near L.A., where he’s studying for a month to improve his English. When he perfunctorily befriends a nondescript girl his age, Jennifer (Alice Morel Michaud), he’s introduced to her rich parents, the Carringtons (Ken Samuels, Susan Almgren), who are so cultivated, they speak perfect if heavily accented French (how this is supposed to improve Donald’s English is anyone’s guess).
Of course, Daddy Carrington has the nerdy and meek Donald introduced into his fraternity, which is frequented by a battery of teenagers being groomed to become captains of industry. The film’s frustratingly vague about what kind of dorm, school and fraternity the 15-year-old (!) is actually attending, with any remotely plausible details about actual life in the U.S. about as forthcoming as a John Kasich presidency.
Donald tells Jennifer’s parents (whose source of wealth isn’t quite clear either) that his father is a plastic surgeon with several clinics back on the old continent. The reason is hopelessly naïve: Quack-quack thinks he’ll never have to introduce them to his filthy-rich hillbilly folks who are back in their Monegasque mansion whose decor, as seen in part one, suggests Martha Stewart on steroids. But they all fly over, land in Kansas City and then drive a motor home to L.A. (and later, Vegas). Though flying directly to the City of Angels would’ve been easier, the audience wouldn’t have had the chance to see these yokels meet their U.S. equivalents, who are all religious nuts, misers, dangerous or all of the above. A sequence involving the loss of their 15 credit cards is especially lame, inspiring the film’s most needlessly drawn-out attempt at humor.
Like in local box-office monsters Intouchables and Serial (Bad) Weddings, what passes for crude humor in France can be perceived as racially insensitive in the U.S. and elsewhere. Stephanie’s wannabe boyfriend, Georges (Ralph Amoussou), for example, is tasered on a plane because, well, he listens to rap music with explicit lyrics and he’s black, so he must be a terrorist. Ha-ha-ha. In another scene, Georges is somewhere in the rural U.S. when a van stops to give him a lift. Inside are several men in white robes with pointy hoods. Even if they weren’t racially inconsiderate, the supposed gags are extremely lazy, since they assume just seeing a black person being tasered or getting into a van with KKK members is in and of itself funny. These gags aren’t just offensive but also sloppy, with no real set-up and payoff, relying on man’s basest instincts to score laughs while reinforcing stereotypes.
Possibly an even worse offender is a scene in which the Tuches meet a group of Native Americans, none of whom seem to be played by actual, you know, Native Americans. Shockingly, they look less like 21st-century U.S. citizens from a reservation than a group of men in Indian carnival outfits. The joke is supposed to be that Grandma (Claire Nadeau), who only speaks subtitled gibberish, manages to communicate with them because she once fell asleep, drunk, while watching Dances With Wolves. While the idea itself isn’t remotely funny, that’s not the real problem; what’s offensive is not only how they look but also how the filmmakers haven’t even bothered to have Grandma actually speak something resembling a language, much less actual Sioux (which is spoken in Wolves but not in Kansas or Colorado, where the family is supposedly traveling through to get to California).
As in the first film, the feel-good sentiments are broad and broadly applied. Tuche Daddy’s infatuation with a strapping Latino gardener (Canadian hottie Christian de la Cortina) is supposed to help impart a message of tolerance — there’s even a gay wedding! — but this subplot includes so many tasteless, homophobic, transphobic and simply clueless jokes that they completely erase any of the goodwill the audience might have had toward both its gay characters and the film’s supposedly progressive message. The couple’s loving rapport is reduced to just anal sex, for example, while one homophobic character suggests a simple sex-change operation could turn the couple straight. These Tuchebags are possibly even more clueless about the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity than the makers of the utterly misguided The Danish Girl, though that film at least had delicate rather than coarse performances, not to mention fabulous frocks.
The Tuche’s writing is staggeringly lazy and unfocused throughout, notwithstanding (or perhaps because of?) five credited screenwriters. There’s no real third act to speak of, and many subplots are introduced but then left hanging. What happens to Georges, Jennifer, the Quebec neighbors (no French comedy is complete without making fun of the Quebec accent) or that slimy Francophone Hollywood talent agent that promises to make Stephanie a star? All of this would be less of a problem if the film provided laughs aplenty, but this critic couldn’t even manage a single chuckle during the film’s at least mercifully brief 94-minute running time.
The French word for country bumpkin is plouc (“plook”). and while these characters might be up all night to get ploucky, it’s never less than tiring to watch.
Production companies: Eskwad, Pathé, TF1 Films Production, Prod par 4 Ciné, Jouror Films
Cast: Jean-Paul Rouve, Isabelle Nanty, Claire Nadeau, Sarah Stern, Pierre Lottin, Theo Fernandez, Ken Samuels, Susan Almgren, Alice Morel Michaud, Richard Robitaille, Christian de la Cortina
Director: Olivier Baroux
Screenplay: Philippe Mechelen, Lionel Dutemple, Julien Hervé, Benjamin Morgaine, Nessim Chikhaoui
Producer: Richard Grandpierre
Co-producers: Romain Le Grand, Vivien Aslanian
Director of photography: Christian Abomnes
Production designer: Perine Barre
Costume designer: Sandra Gutierrez
Editor: Richard Marizy
Music: Martin Rappeneau
Sales: Pathé International
No rating, 94 minutes
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