Back in Crime: Film Review

Melanie Thierry and Jean-Hughes Anglade.
Time-tripping policier never moves beyond its far-fetched premise.

Jean-Hughes Anglade and Melanie Thierry star in Germinal Alvarez's feature debut, about a detective who travels back in time to catch a serial killer.

PARIS -- A detective obsessed with a 20-year-old murder case finds himself Back in Crime (L’Autre vie de Richard Kemp) in debuting writer-director Germinal Alvarez’s bizarre and vaguely compelling supernatural policier. Like a cross between CSI and Hot Tub Time Machine, though without any of the latter’s laughs, this darkly told tale of a cop who’s inexplicably teleported to a 1989 serial killer investigation is somewhat held afloat by leads Jean-Hughes Anglade and Melanie Thierry, but is also too much of a head scratcher to find much traction beyond genre fests and VOD.

Reminiscent in many ways of fellow Frenchie Noemie Lvovsky’s Camille Rewinds, except replacing that movie’s high school rom-com story with a classic cop vs. killer scenario, the film begins in the present with hardnosed Commander Kent (Anglade) tackling a murder case that's awfully similar to one he had worked on two decades prior. After crossing paths with Helene (Thierry), a local psychiatrist who discovered the dead body, Kent returns to the scene of the crime, only to find himself ambushed and then -- presto chango -- whisked away into the past.

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With much of the story -- co-written by Alvarez and Nathalie Saugeon (The Other Son)—taking place during this lengthy time-tripping episode, it takes a certain amount of faith to so easily buy into such a plot contrivance, especially as the writers never bother to offer up any rational explanations. Things become a bit more convincing when the 50-something Kent begins stalking his 30-year-old self, sticking to the shadows as he tries to prevent the future string of killings from occurring, and falling for a younger version of Helene who winds up caught in the intrigue as well.

Yet like many a high concept narrative, Back in Crime tends to walk a fine line between plausible and laughable, and it’s mostly thanks to poker-faced performances by Anglade (Queen Margot) and Thierry (Terry Gilliam’s upcoming The Zero Theorem) that the movie doesn't feel like a complete wash-out. Still, Alvarez never really employs his gimmick to explore his characters’ psyches the way Lvovksy did in Camille, and he ultimately sticks to the surface of a rather routine primetime detective set-up, using the time travel scheme simply as a means to add an extra layer of suspense.

Tech credits are fairly run of-the-mill, even if cinematographer Vincent Mathias (The Prey) does a good job with the various rundown seaside locations (the film was shot in the Western French port city of La Rochelle). A heavily atmospheric score by Evgeuni & Sacha Galperine (The Past) heads to familiar places, although, like the plot, provides some minor surprises along the way.

Opens: June 5 (in France)

Production companies: Haut et Court, Direct Cinema

Cast: Jean-Hughes Anglade, Melanie Thierry, Philippe Berodot

Director: Germinal Alvarez

Screenwriters: Germinal Alvarez, Nathalie Saugeon

Producers: Carole Scotta, Simon Arnal

Director of photography: Vincent Mathias

Production designer: Marie-Helene Sulmoni

Costume designer: Pierre Canitrot

Music: Evgeuni Galperine, Sacha Galperine

Editors: Alexandro Rodriguez, Yannick Kergoat

Sales Agent: Memento Films International

No rating, 99 minutes