3 Brothers: The Return (Les 3 freres, le retour): Film Review

Pamela Duhesme
A sequel that feels like a bad remake of the badly aged 1995 original.

French actors and directors Bernard Campan, Didier Bourdon and Pascal Legitimus all return for this jejune follow-up to their 1995 box-office hit "Three Brothers."

PARIS -- Three half brothers found out about each other’s existence when their mother died in The Three Brothers, a 1995 French hit film directed by Les Inconnus, a comedy posse composed of actors Bernard Campan, Didier Bourdon and Pascal Legitimus. Now almost 20 years later, the film finally gets a sequel, 3 Brothers: The Return (Les 3 freres, le retour), though the result is about as imaginative as part deux’s title.

As in the first film, it’s the inheritance of their shared mother, a country singer who lived in the U.S., that brings them together, and again the prospect of a much-needed windfall is needlessly complicated by low-brow hijinks that here involve such supposedly funny but mostly old-hat feeling larks such as cross-dressing, inadvertently taking drugs or participating in a TV show wearing an animal costume. This is less of a sequel than a strange remake of sorts in which the actors have visibly aged two decades but most of the jokes seem to have expired around the time Coolio’s Gangsta Paradise disappeared from the charts.

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Though the French media weren’t exactly kind to this local Feb. 12 release -- one paper went as far as to suggest that the Inconnus "microwaved" rather than directed this sequel, an insult if ever there was one in the world’s last strongholds of gourmet cooking -- the film has been doing solid business, with almost 1.6 million admissions in two weeks. However, the first film’s impressive total of 6.6 million sold tickets definitely seems out of reach.

Didier Latour (Bourdon), has shacked up with a woman best described as the Queen of Dowdiness, mainly because he hopes her rich, ailing and wheelchair-bound mother (Yvonne Gradelet), who lives with them, will soon give up the ghost. Unbeknownst to his wife, he’s not a philosophy teacher at a prestigious school at all but sells sex toys and supposedly sexy underwear out of his car (the movie thinks this is somehow inherently funny).

His half brother, Pascal Latour (Legitimus), is of a similar mind, having moved in with a rich and older American woman who thinks she’s a cougar, though in reality he’s just using her, or rather, her money. The only one not in luck with the ladies or the dough gods is Bernard Latour (Campan), a dirt-poor, third-rate standup comedian who sort of manages to eke out a living because people pity him (insert joke about how his act isn't the worst thing in this movie here).

Like in part one, the three very different brothers are reunited because of their mother’s inheritance, which now involves a record company that wants the advance back they paid for a single Ms Latour didn’t manage to record before she died. The case’s legal technicalities are all as louche as Aurelie Rogemond’s costumes and, also like in part one, it is the child of one of them that’s the motor behind the film’s flimsy excuse for a narrative throughline.

Though Didier’s son, Michael (again played by Antoine du Merle, now a former child actor), puts in an appearance in the film’s most cringe-worthy setpiece that involves a lethal combination of terrible Quebecois accents and worse cross-dressing, the film’s most important Latour junior is newcomer Sarah (Sofia Lesaffre), the teenage daughter of Bernard and a woman (Fatima Adoum) that Pascal and Didier used to fight over (the movie thinks this is somehow inherently funny and the guaranteed motor of all sorts of drama to boot).

The actors’ shtick hasn’t changed over the years, though what felt if not always entirely fresh then at least quite funny 19 years ago, now more often comes off as not only overly familiar but actually third-rate and stale. Technically, at least, the film’s in line with other recent big-budget French comedies, though that's about as much of a consolation as getting a single laugh over the course of a 106-minute movie.

Opens Feb. 12 (in France)

Production companies: Pan-Europeenne, Wild Bunch

Cast: Bernard Campan, Didier Bourdon, Pascal Legitimus, Sofia Lesaffre, Daniel Russo, Antoine du Merle, Christian Hecq, Biyouna, Fatima Adoum

Directors: Les Inconnus

Screenwriters: Bernard Campan, Didier Bourdon, Pascal Legitimus

Producers: Philippe Godeau

Executive producers: Philippe Godeau

Director of photography: Pascal Caubere

Costume designer: Aurelie Rogemond

Editor: Jeanne Kef

Sales: Wild Bunch

No rating, 106 minutes.