'Good Guys Go to Heaven, Bad Guys Go to Pattaya': Film Review

Pattaya still - H 2016
Courtesy of Unifrance/Gaumont
Works for its target audience but has zero crossover appeal.

Actor-director Franck Gastambide stars alongside Malik Bentalha and Anouar Toubali in this Thailand-set gross-out comedy that's been conquering the French box office.

A diminutive and stuttering Muslim from the French projects is kidnapped under false pretenses and ends up at a championship of Thai boxing for little people in Good Guys Go to Heaven, Bad Guys Go to Pattaya, French multihyphenate Franck Gastambide’s second feature as an actor-writer-director and animal trainer. The film, simply known as Pattaya back home, is mostly set in the eponymous Thai seaside town mainly known for its rampant sexual tourism. And like Gastambide’s previous film, Porn in the Hood, this is again a crude mix of banlieue humor, animal-related tomfoolery, lots of talk about but very little actual sex, a lot of visually explicit projectile spraying of bodily fluids and a barrage of jokes about little people that constantly comes up short. Urban audiences in France have been eating it all up with glee, with the pic scoring 1.6 million admissions in just three weeks. This makes it France’s third-most-popular local film of the year so far and ninth-most-popular overall.

Though Gastambide has to be commended for not taking the easy route and simply making Porn in the Hood 2: Centerfold after his first film racked up just under a million admissions in 2012, there’s nonetheless a sense of déjà vu here. The leads are again second-generation French Arabs from the projects and form a trio composed of Gastambide as the more straightforward romantic lead, a regular-sized sidekick and a little person. The film’s unsophisticated sense of humor and much of the visuals — most of Porn’s below-the-line talent is back on board — are also so similar, it feels like at least a spiritual sequel (call it Porn in the Palm Trees, if you must). Audiences who like this sort of thing will get their fill, though again there's a sense most of the scenes are sketch-like setups more than part of a proper narrative.

Gastambide plays Franky, a shaved knucklehead who’s obsessed with going to the gym so he can look more like Vin Diesel — the likeliness is actually pretty good — and impress his ex-girlfriend, Lilia (Sabrina Ouazani, from Kechiche’s Games of Love and Chance). In what is a fascinating role reversal that sounds better on paper than it plays onscreen, she’s a real tough cookie who makes it clear in no uncertain terms she’s over him and he needs to stay out of her life. Too bad the film doesn't explore her actual character more but sticks to a fantasy vision from close to Franky's point ofview, who likes to think of her in slow-motion and bikini. 

Lovesick, Franky lets his best buddy, Krimo (Malik Bentalha), convince him they need to go Thailand, and more particularly the town of the title, which is a “paradise for the kaira,” with "kaira" not only a French slang word for “racaille,” or ruffians from the suburbs, but also the French title of Gastambide’s first film, which was in turn inspired by his popular web series, Kaira Shopping. To do this, they need the help of devout little person Karim (Anouar Toubali), a neighbor whose real name neither knows, constantly referring to him as “the dwarf” instead. To get free tickets to Thailand, they enter him into a championship of Thai boxing for little people, though Karim isn’t a pugilist at all; he is made to believe they are going on a hajj to Mecca. To his surprise, instead of Islam’s Holy City, they find themselves in a tropical Sodom and Gomorrah, where plentiful transsexuals are on hand so at least the little people can share the burden of being the constant butt of the (occasionally also literally) balls-out jokes with them.

Just like in Porn in the Hood, the background of the leads is Muslim, which is part of Pattaya’s appeal for urban audiences starved for films about people like themselves, even if they are depicted as sex-crazed lunatics or losers (in comedies, anything goes). But it is odd that again, as in his Hood, Gastambide doesn’t address the divergence between Muslim teachings and what his characters are into or encounter, especially since here he has a devout believer supposedly on a holy pilgrimage who is confronted with not just sex before or outside marriage but prostitution, transsexuals and countless other things that no doubt feature on most imams’ not-to-do lists.

Jokes such as calling Karim “the dwarf” could work if they’re properly contextualized, suggesting the ignorance of Krimo and Franky, but Gastambide is often too lazy to develop his leads or refine or add to his situational humor so that it could also help suggest something about the characters. There are a few scenes in the film’s second half that do try to impart a generic can’t-we-all-get-along message, but after over an hour of gags, fights and dances involving dwarfs and/or transsexuals, that feels a bit too facile to register as sincere.

That said, the actors get to show something of their acting chops — as opposed to just their cray-cray faces — in the handful of more serious scenes and they are all solid, while the classically arranged score also helps lift the spirits. Pattaya does often feel too hemmed in by its own limited set of references — which, besides Porn in the Hood, include The Hangover Part 2 and several Jean-Claude van Damme vehicles — to see an opportunity, for example, to put its own spin on Some Like It Hot’s famous closing line when the leads’ local kaira guide, played by popular comic Ramzy, explains why he’s fine with his transsexual wife.

By far the film’s strongest craft contribution comes from costume designer Emmanuele Youchnovski, who perfectly exaggerates the fashion sense and labels obsession of a certain subset of suburban cool kids. Youchnovski deserves some kind of prize for Franky’s series of T-shirts alone, which include countless singlets with the face of Diesel as well as a hilarious black tee with a still photo from violent French banlieue classic La Haine (literally “Hate”), though instead of the title, it says L’Amour, to help visually suggest Franky is proud of the projects, however tough, that he calls home. The pic's English-language title is also spotted on a T-shirt.

Production companies: Mandarin Cinema, Gaumont, D8 Films
Cast: Franck Gastambide, Malik Bentalha, Anouar Toubali, Ramzy Bedia, Gad Elmaleh, Sabrina Ouazani
Director: Franck Gastambide
Screenplay: Franck Gastambide, Stephane Kazandjian
Producers: Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer
Director of photography: Renaud Chassaing
Production designer: Arthur Deleu
Costume designer: Emmanuele Youchnovski
Editor: Laure Gardette
Music: Eric Neveux, Kore
Casting: David El Hakim, Putaya Chaimongkolpetch
Sales: Gaumont

Not rated, 97 minutes