Asterix and Obelix: God Save Britannia: Film Review

Asterix Still - H 2012

Asterix Still - H 2012

The mighty Gallic franchise dishes out a few solid laughs amid an overstretched, effects-laden adventure.

Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve star in this fourth installment of the famous French comic book franchise.

PARIS -- Proving that the law of diminishing returns dates at least as far back as the Roman Empire, Asterix and Obelix: God Save Britannia (Astérix et Obélix: au service de Sa Majesté) is a rather floundering fourth addition to the widely popular French comic book comedy franchise.

Directed with a pop-ish sensibility by Laurent Tirard (Le Petit Nicolas), this effects-heavy, 3D-outfitted installment–in which the mighty Gallic duo bring their magic and mustaches across the channel to save the Queen from Cesar’s army–features a few decent gags and non-sequiturs amid an otherwise redundant storyline that begins to waver by the second act, and then just keeps on coming. With a purported budget of €60 million ($78 million) and a cast of French film heavyweights including Gérard Depardieu, Catherine Deneuve and Dany Boon, Britannia should see big numbers in all Francophone territories, although they won’t reach the heights of 2002’s Mission Cléopâtre, which remains both the best and highest domestic grosser of the bunch.

Alongside Hergé’s Tintin, writer/illustrator René Goscinny and artist Albert Uderzo’s Asterix series is undoubtedly the most beloved bande dessinée in French history, with 300-hundred-plus million copies of the 34-book series sold in dozens of different languages, and three previous movies raking in a combined total of 30-plus million local admissions. There’s even a national Asterix theme park, which, like its titular hero, has tried its best over the years to thwart an ongoing alien invasion (in this case, by Mickey Mouse and the folks at Disneyland Paris).

Based on Asterix in Britain and Asterix and the Normans, the scenario—co-written with Tirard regular Grégoire Vigneron—takes a few cues from Alain Chabat’s Cléopâtre as it follows Asterix (Edouard Baer, the third actor to take on the role after Clovis Cornillac and Christian Clavier) and Obelix (series stalwart Depardieu) from their isolated enclave in Brittany to the heart of England circa 50 B.C., where reigning Queen Cordelia (Deneuve) is hoping the two Gauls will rescue her nation from a siege by Julius Cesar (Luchini) and his army. Along the way, the Frenchies cross paths with an uptight Brit (Guillaume Gallienne), his undersexed wife (Charlotte Le Bon) and their over-anal servant (Valérie Lemercier), resulting in lots of cultural clashes and commentaries on the age-old cross-Channel rivalry.

Indeed, many—way too many—of the jokes here involve the various French cast members speaking their native language with ridiculous British accents (an effect that will be lost on non-French speaking viewers), and while some such gags work initially, the film overstretches them across 110 minutes of action that, like the Romans surrounding Cordelia’s fort, winds up turning in circles. The bits involving a squad of invading Vikings (the “Normans”) are especially tedious and over-the-top, even if there are a few brief instances of cleverness, such as a scene where a Norman fighter (Dany Boon) is subjected to a Clockwork Orange-style lesson in English manners.

Otherwise, Tirard and cinematographer Denis Rouden (A Gang Story) offer up lots of candy-colored set pieces—such as an ancient version of London called Londinium—and plenty of gorgeous landscapes in a continent-hopping co-production that shot in Hungary, Ireland and Malta. Visual effects by Mac Guff and supervisor Kevin Berger (Days of Glory) are tongue-in-cheek in the spirit of the original comics, adding panache to a movie that has a very hard time maintaining interest through the final standoff.

Baer (Chicken With Plums) manages to dish out a few witty one-liners and tends to underplay things, while Depardieu is truly larger than life as the all-powerful Obelix, sporting a pair of XXXXL striped pants that he wears up to his neckline. But the real star here may be Vincent Lacoste (Les Beaux Gosses), who winningly portrays a blasé teenager completely indifferent to the ongoing antics—best reflecting how much this waning franchise needs a boost of young talent to stay fresh.

Projection at the Paris screening caught was a bit on the dim side, while the 3D itself seemed both harmless and superfluous.

Although Britannia officially opens October 17, it premiered last week at the Dinard Film Festival and is currently being publicly previewed in theatres throughout France.

Production companies: Fidélité Films, Cinetotal KFT, Lucky Red S.r.l., Morena Films, France 2 Cinema, France 3 Cinema, Saint Sébastien Froissart
Cast: Gérard Depardieu, Edouard Baer, Guillaume Gallienne, Vincent Lacoste, Valérie Lermercier, Fabrice Luchini, Catherine Deneuve
Director: Laurent Tirard
Screenwriters: Laurent Tirard, Grégoire Vigneron, based on the comic books Asterix in Britian and Asterix and the Normans by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo
Producers: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
Director of photography: Denis Rouden
Production designer: Françoise Dupertuis
Music: Klaus Badelt
Costume designer: Pierre-Jean Larroque
Editor: Valérie Deseine
Visual effects supervisor: Kevin Berger
Sales Agent: Wild Bunch
No rating, 110 minutes.