Partners in Crime (Associes contre le crime): Film Review

Partners in Crime - W 2012
Outlandish Agatha Christie adaptation would have the English author spinning in her grave, and enjoying every minute of it.

Catherine Frot and Andre Dussollier star in Pascal Thomas' fourth Agatha Christie adaptation

PARIS -- Less a whodunit than a whowouldathunkit, Partners in Crime (Associes contre le crime) is the fourth, and clearly the nuttiest, adaptation by French director Pascal Thomas (Le Grand appartement) of Agatha Christie’s eponymous short story collection. Once again starring ace actors Catherine Frot and Andre Dussollier as the Sherlocking, now semi-retired Beresfords, the film throws any real suspense by the wayside to deliver a slew of outlandishly surreal set pieces and non sequiturs, as if the great Dame of Mystery were remixed by the likes of Ruiz and Resnais.

Released locally on August 22, the mid-sized StudioCanal launch performed decently in its first frame and should continue to score steady numbers before the coming onslaught of fall releases. Overseas play will focus on Francophonia and French fests, although Thomas’ entertaining and increasingly enigmatic Christie series deserves its own mini-retrospective in other markets.

The action kicks off with the suave Belisaire (Dussollier) promoting his brand new autobiography–much to the chagrin of his peppy wife, Prudence (Frot), who’s been deleted from the Beresfords’ many exploits (“It’s just a marketing strategy,” Belisaire pleads with her.) But while her hubby has decided to temporarily swap out his magnifying glass for a paintbrush (in an uncanny scene involving a nude model and a Gustave Courbet look-a-like), Prudence sets up her own detective agency and embarks on the case of a missing Russian heiress, last seen at an exclusive Swiss spa-cum-plastic surgery clinic.

That location becomes the centerpiece for much of the ensuing zaniness, as the Beresfords follow a trail of facelifts, breast implants and sexed-up senior citizens, hoping to unlock the secrets of a mysterious fountain of youth formula that makes 90-year-olds look like, well, 70-year-olds. Indeed, as Partners in Crime slips more and more into Inspector Clouseau/Marx Bros. territory—including a sequence where Belisaire gives Prudence a not-too-tender spanking as a means to jog her memory—it becomes clear that Thomas (along with co-writers Clemence de Bieville and Nathalie Lafaurie) is offering up a wacked out, slapstick commentary on the hardships of growing old and staying together.

This all culminates in an extended sight gag that is hilarious in its utter simplicity, and poignant in the way it wraps up the film’s major theme—much more so than its plot, which gets lots somewhere in the second act and only resurfaces as a means to prolong the shenanigans.

Following Crime is Our Business and Towards Zero, Dussollier and Frot reteam to form a convincing, fun-loving pair whose antics are fueled by friendly competition and the love of adventure, not to mention several large servings of whisky. Tech credits are solid if unexceptional, while Reinhardt Wagner’s score shows hints of Bernard Hermann, attempting to insert some suspense within a mystery movie that gleefully circumvents the genre’s usual trappings.


Production companies: Les Films Francais, StudioCanal, Studio 37, France 2 Cinema, Rhone-Alpes Cinema

Cast: Catherine Frot, Andre Dussollier, Linh-Dan Pham, Nicolas Marie, Agathe de la Boulaye, Eric Naggar, Bernard Verley, Herve Pierre

Director: Pascal Thomas

Screenwriters: Clemence de Bieville, Pascal Thomas, Nathalie Lafaurie, based on the Agatha Christie story “The Case of the Missing Lady” in Partners in Crime

Producer: Nathalie Lafaurie

Executive producer: Karen Adler

Director of photography: Renan Polles

Production designer: Katia Wyszkop

Music: Reinhardt Wagner

Costume designer: Catherine Bouchard

Editors: Catherine Dubeau, Melanie Mourey

Sales: StudioCanal

No rating, 104 minutes