Babysitting: Film Review

Babysitting Film Still - H 2014

Babysitting Film Still - H 2014

It's bros before belles in this spirited but sentimental French comedy.

Directors Philippe Lacheau and Nicolas Benamou make their debut with this found footage French comedy, released locally by Universal International Pictures France.

A lively mashup of The Hangover and Project X, with a bit of The Sitter tossed in, the French found footage comedy Babysitting scores points for sustaining a shaky premise (and camera), but is ultimately too high on verve and too low on veritable laughs. This feature debut by rising comic star Philippe Lacheau -- who co-directed with Nicolas Benamou -- is a passable attempt to bring the outre party genre to Gaul, where the film should yield solid returns for Universal (whose heavy marketing campaign has been even more aggressive than the movie’s earsplitting EDM soundtrack). Overseas bids will be mostly limited to Euro territories, while a U.S. release will hinge on whether we’ve all had enough bongs, thongs and beer pong for the time being.

Although France is known as a nation of fine wine and impeccable etiquette, the champagne-guzzling, car-crashing, constantly self-filming dudes (and dudette) depicted here paint another portrait entirely. An expert in comparative culture could comment on how the Internet has exported the frat house mentality abroad, or else pick up on the innate differences between French and American party practices. But in the end, Babysitting only goes to show that no matter where you are, bros will be bros, and as long as Hangover-style films continue to rake in massive amounts of dough, the rest of us will be obliged to watch them.

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But before the merde hits the fan -- or, as actually happens in the film, the pet parrot hits the fan, dies and is subjected to CPR by two drunken a-holes -- things start off calmly enough, with secretary/wannabe comic book artist Franck (Lacheau) about to celebrate his 30th birthday along with best buds Ernest (Vincent Desagnat) and Sam (Tarek Boudali). Yet just when they’re ready to get plastered and perhaps laid, Franck’s boss, Schaudel (popular comic actor Gerard Jugnot), obliges his employee to spend the night babysitting his spoiled brat of a son, Remi (Enzo Tomasini), leaving the two alone in his chic suburban mansion.

Cut to the next morning with Schaudel and his wife (Clotilde Courau) arriving home to find their place in smithereens and their little boy gone missing. When the cops show up, they discover a digital camera, and -- faster than you can say Paranormal Activity, V/H/S, REC, Cloverfield et al. -- we go to the videotape to see exactly what happened, with Ernest chronicling the chaotic events.

It’s certainly not a new premise, and feels way too close to the Todd Phillips franchise to seem original. But where Lacheau, Boudali and fellow writers Julien Arruti and Pierre Lacheau manage to add a few twists is by shifting between the present and flashback scenes as clues surface, while using the structure to get in a couple of decent gags (especially one involving a cigar and pair of butt cheeks).

Otherwise, as Ernest, Sam and requisite love interest Sonia (Alice David) get the party started at worrywart Franck’s expense, we’re subjected to over-the-top mayhem, including an intense lap dance (that the press notes refer to as a “surra de bunda” -- which is perhaps Portuguese for “ass quake”), a car chase that takes cues from the famous scene in Children of Men, a lengthy carnival that’s less amusing to watch than it must have been to shoot and a massive rave where the score (by Michael Tordjman and Maxime Desprez) pounds out Skrillex-style beats a la Spring Breakers.

While the pace is energetic and the cross-cutting clever, there just aren’t enough good jokes to make the movie as fun as it sounds, and rather than aiming for a balls-to-the-wall finale, directors Lecheau and Benamou -- both of whom have backgrounds in sketch and stand-up shows -- try to insert a sentimental father-son story that feels telegraphed from kilometers away.

It’s an awkward attempt to redeem all the party mongering instead of bringing on the apocalypse like Harmony Korine or Nima Nourizadeh. In that sense, Babysitting does prove to be some kind of French exception -- in that it wants to have its cake, smother it in boos and body fluids and eat it, too.

Tech credits are polished in the present-day scenes and purposely cruddy in the found footage ones.

Production companies: Axel Films, Madame Films, Cinefrance 1988

Cast: Philippe Lacheau, Alice David, Vincent Desagnat, Tarek Boudali, Gerard Jugnot

Directors: Philippe Lacheau, Nicolas Benamou

Screenwriters: Philippe Lacheau, Pierre Lacheau, Julien Arruti, Tarek Boudali

Producers: Marc Fiszman, Christophe Cervoni

Director of photography: Antoine Marteau

Production designers: Samuel Teisseire

Costume designer: Aurore Pierre

Editor: Olivier Miohaut Alchourroun

Music: Michael Tordjman, Maxime Desprez

Sales agent: Other Angle Pictures

No rating, 83 minutes