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PARIS — Slick and shamelessly silly, Gallic kids comedy Serial Teachers (Les Profs) is one of those Made-in-France productions whose humor has little appeal beyond its borders yet still can score big-time box office on the homefront. Indeed, after being released in mid-April, this glossy and brainless comic book adaptation from actor-director Pierre Francois Martin-Laval has risen to the top of the local charts, raking in more than 3.5 million admissions despite fierce Hollywood competition, while additional ancillary profits are all but guaranteed. But that doesn’t mean it’s any good.
Based on the widely popular Les Profs comics by artist Pica and writer Erroc, the film follows the travails of seven first-rate losers who, having failed in almost every school they’ve taught in, are then hired — in a bizarre kind of reverse-strategy — to come in and save the sinking test scores of regional institution Lycee Jules Ferry.
Among the new faculty members are: a bona fide slacker (Christian Clavier) who hooks a hammock up to the blackboard, a wacky chemistry teacher (Fred Tousch) who makes lots of things explode, a Fascistic English prof (Isabelle Nanty) who throws chalk like machine gun ammo (sound f/x included) and a nubile French literature instructor (Stefi Celma) decked out in tube tops and miniskirts, who enters the classroom to a constant soundtrack of generic 70s funk.
If these all sound like horrible cliches, well, they are, and Martin-Laval (King Guillaume), along with co-writer Mathias Gavarry, takes little care in making his staff any more nuanced than they are in their original 2D drawings. As for the students, they are better refined — especially class clown Boulard (stand-up comic Kev Adams) and overachiever Nectarine (Joana Person) — but hardly convincing, their roles subjugated to mere reaction shots as they watch their teachers do endlessly stupid things.
Eventually, the dream team catches wind of the conspiracy that brought them together in the first place, and for at least a moment, the film shows some empathy towards its cast of cardboard characters. But as things head towards an expectedly upbeat finale, Les Profs loses sight of what could have been a clever satire on the foibles of L’Education nationale in favor of broad slapstick (e.g. tomato throwing) and a false feel-good spirit hoisted up by a nonstop score, which includes several tracks from Gallic hip-hop ensemble Deluxe.
Made on a hefty (for France) budget of 12M€ ($15.5M), the tech credits are overtly polished, with cinematographer Regis Blondeau (You’ll Miss Me) using a candy-colored palette and overindulging in slow-motion effects, while production designer Franck Schwarz (The Queen) offers up an array of eye-popping sets that seem far more sophisticated than the people standing in front of them.
Production companies: Les Films du 24, TF1 Droits Audiovisuels, TF1 Films Production
Cast: Christian Clavier, Isabelle Nanty, Pierre Francois Martin-Laval, Kev Adams, Francois Morel
Director: Pierre Francois Martin-Laval
Screenwriters: Pierre Francois Martin-Laval, Mathias Gavarry, based on the comic books “Les Profs” by Pica and Erroc
Producer: Romain Rojtman
Director of photography: Regis Blondeau
Production designer: Franck Schwarz
Costume designer: Eve Marie Arnault
Music: Deluxe, Matthieu Gonet, Dominique Pinon
Editor: Thibaut Damade
Sales Agent: TF1 International
No rating, 89 minutes