‘Bis’: Film Review

Bis Still - H 2015
Courtesy of EuropaCorp

Bis Still - H 2015

Back to le future

French comic stars Kad Merad and Franck Dubosc revisit the 80’s in this time-travel comedy

Two characters in the midst of a mid-life crisis are magically whisked back to the 1980’s, where they get a chance to relive their pasts and maybe even change their futures. Ever heard that one before? Of course you have: it’s a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine. And another movie called Camille Rewinds – whose plot was stolen from Peggy Sue Got Married. And let’s not forget Back to the Future or Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure for the time travel, or Big and 17 Again for turning back into a kid.

But say we could hop some thirty-odd years into the past and erase all those works from film history? In that case, the new French comedy Bis – starring box office idols Kad Merad (Welcome to the Sticks)and Franck Dubosc (Camping) – would probably seem like a truly original work. Instead, this unabashedly derivative effort from director Dominique Farrugia (The Perfect Date) is seriously lacking in freshness, but somewhat makes up for it with a few decent gags and nods to the period. It’s enough to give the mid-February EuropaCorp release a good bump in its first frame, with prospects outside Francophonia limited to a remake of this remake of a remake.

Patrice (Merad) is a successful gynecologist who’s grown tired of life with his high school sweetheart, Caroline (Alexandra Lamy). His best buddy, Eric (Dubosc), is a serial womanizer who’s about to flee France in order to escape the tax man. During a weekend retreat in the country, Patrice and Eric get drunk while chatting about the good ol’ days. And then they tumble down the cellar stairs, and into a time warp that takes them back to 1986, where they’re about to finish senior year and begin their adult lives.

So much for the overfamiliar plot, – credited to three screenwriters and four “original idea” conceivers, as baffling as that sounds – although Bis (which means “alternative” in French) adds a few twists by having Patrice and Eric transformed into their 16-year-old selves, and then agreeing to trade lives so each can grow up into their polar opposites. Meanwhile, young Caroline (newcomer Eden Ducourant) pops into the picture and drives a wedge between the two best friends, who then need to decide if they want to follow their fates or alter them before time winds up running out.

While the redundancy is a major drawback – Bis even steals the dying parent subplot from Camille Rewinds, putting Eric’s father (Gerard Darmon) on the brink of his demise – the filmmakers do find some humor in all the past vs. present anomalies, poking fun at dated 80’s fads like roller-rink disco parties, bleached-out big hair and Fizz Wizz. One clever scene (that will only work with French audiences) has the two numbskulls pitching future movie ideas to a production company, although the plots to such hits as Intouchables, Les Visiteurs and The Artist can’t get them past the secretary.

At least that sequence has Farrugia acknowledging how much he’s stealing from other movies. Otherwise, Bis doesn’t seem to mind the constant plagiarism, even if Merad and Dubosc have a decent bromantic chemistry that makes it watchable enough. The former plays his scenes straight while the latter tries not to overdo it as much as usual – though there are a few scenes of Dubosc in the buff, covering his genitals with his bare hands (this seems to be a contractual obligation for the comic star).

Tech credits are polished across the board, including colorful period production design by Etienne Mery. Soundtrack is loaded with hits from the epoch, including tracks by The Cure, Positive Force, as well as local acts like Telephone and the late, great French rocker Alain Bashung. 

Production companies: FEW,  EuropaCorp, TF1 Films Production
Cast: Kad Merad, Franck Dubosc, Alexandra Lamy, Gerard Darmon, Julien Boisselier
Director: Dominique Farrugia
Screenwriters: Dominique Farrugia, Nans Delgado, Frederic Hazan, based on an original idea by Dominique Farrugia, Mathieu Delaporte, Alexandre de la Patelliere, Julien Rappeneau
Producer: Christophe Lambert
Executive producer: Dominique Brunner
Director of photography: Remy Chevrin
Production designer: Etienne Mery
Costume designer: Emmanuelle Youchovski
Editor: Frederique Olszak Olszewksi
Composer: Julien Jaouen
Casting director: Swan Pham
Sales agent: EuropaCorp

No rating, 101 minutes