'The Grad Job' (‘A toute epreuve'): Champs-Elysees Review

The Grad Job Still - H 2014

The Grad Job Still - H 2014

Young criminal minds try to steal their way to straight A’s in this fast and funny French comedy.

Director Antoine Blossier (“Proie”) offers up a fun-filled homage to heist flicks and ‘80’s-era action-comedies in this Gaumont-backed sophomore feature.

A pair of teenage underachievers hope to heist their way to a passing final grade in The Grad Job (A Toute Epreuve), a lively French feature that plays like a cross between Ocean’s 11, Superbad and about a dozen or so 1980’s action-comedies, some of which writer-director Antoine Blossier (Proie) gleefully cites on screen. Fast and funny, yet a tad too busy in its third act, this Gaumont-backed effort should see strong returns for its July 9 release, especially from Gallic students who’ve managed to earn their baccalaureat without committing a major felony.

Premiering at the third annual Champs-Elysees Film Festival before hitting local screens in a few weeks, Job could also see pickups in Francophone territories and fests, though it may be too much of a commercial venture for overseas art house play. But its clever premise and genre-jumping sensibility certainly make for decent remake fodder, and one can already picture a Stateside version where a bunch of seniors attempt to rob the SATs before they flunk out.

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Greg (Thomas Soliveres) is a two-time loser whose bad grades and love of comic books don’t prevent him from hooking up with the hot new girl in class, Maeva (Mathilde Warnier). But when the latter reveals her plans to attend college in London, Greg needs to desperately get a top score on the upcoming "bac" exam, which French students are required to pass so they can complete their secondary education.

Rather than sitting down to study, he devises a plan to steal the answers along with partner-in-crime and fellow dweeb, Yani (Sami Seghir). The two quickly contact expert thief, Scarface (Laouni Mouhid, aka La Fouine), and together they team up to heist the coveted test, facing off against the usual obstacles: security cameras, guards, a safe impossible to crack, as well as a pedantic school principal (Marc Lavoine) and class bully (Finnegan Oldfield) out to foil their scheme.

This is well-tread territory that’s given a boost by Blossier and co-writers Sabrina Amara (Pret a tout) and Michael Souhaite, who dish out endless gags and one-liners in the opening reels, before the plot fully kicks in and The Grad Job pays homage to everything from Back to the Future to Indiana Jones -- albeit in a French-friendly R-rated edition (including a full-on sex scene between Greg and Maeva, repeated use of the word "slut" and a running joke involving a missing testicle).

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Relative newcomer Soliveres (The Intouchables) and rising star Seghir (Sleepless Night) make for a winning pair, and the latter is often hilarious as a pervy computer geek who meets his match when a classmate (the funny Melha Bedia) gets on his johnson in a major way. As Greg’s single mom, Valerie Karsenti offers up one of the film’s more memorable sequences during a dinner date that turns sour, while local hip-hop star La Fouine holds his own despite an overwrought character.

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Blossier keeps the action energetic and fresh for most of the running time, until lethargy sets in after the one-hour mark despite a few good twists in the third act. But slick widescreen lensing by Pierre Aim (Polisse) and whiplash editing by Gregoire Sivan (Cinderela) maintain a pace that’s more efficient than most Gallic comedies, which is another reason why this Job seems to have been hatched across the Atlantic, earning its credentials in the various American movies it makes reference to.

Production companies: Jerico, Gaumont, Quasar, France 2 Cinema, Nexus Factory, uMedia

Cast: Thomas Soliveres, Samy Seghir, Marc Lavoine, Valerie Karsenti, Laouni Mouhid, Mathilde Warnier
Director: Antoine Blossier
Screenwriters: Antoine Blossier, Sabrina Amara, Michael Souhaite
Producers: Eric Jehelmann, Philippe Rousselet
Director of photography: Pierre Aim
Production designer: Alex Vivet
Costume designer: Agnes Beziers
Editor: Gregoire Sivan
Composer: Romaric Laurence
Sales agent: Gaumont

No rating, 96 minutes