The Prey (La Proie): Film Review

An escaped convict in hot pursuit of a serial killer runs into a flawed script and a barrage of action film clichés.

This film’s best asset is its brawny star, Albert Dupontel, one of the few Gallic actors who can capably switch from comic high jinks to bone-crushing mayhem.

PARIS — A high-octane, low-IQ mash-up of The Fugitive andSeven, The Prey (La Proie) represents another marginally convincing foray into thriller territory for French director Eric Valette (State Affairs, One Missed Call). This modestly budgeted (at 10 million euros) StudioCanal release should see its best returns in ancillary, while any action Stateside should come via a Hollywood remake.

There’s less innovation than imitation in the very ‘90s-esque screenplay by genre junkies Luc Bossi and Laurent Turner (Ultimate Heist, Second Chance). They throw a few curveballs early on, only to head in a predictable direction and take too much time getting there. Clearly, the film’s best asset is its brawny star, Albert Dupontel (The Clink of Ice), one of the only Gallic actors who can capably switch from comic high jinks to bone-crushing mayhem, and who outperforms a scenario that offers few lasting surprises or sustainable characters.

When we first meet professional thief Franck Adrien (Dupontel), he’s serving time for a stick-up job whose bounty only he knows the location of, a fact which pleases neither his wife (Caterina Murino) nor former partner (Olivier Schneider), who’s locked up alongside him. In fact, the only person Franck confides in is cellmate Jean-Louis Maurel (Stephane Debac), a creepy introvert released after being wrongly accused of child molestation, but not before Franck saves him from some Oz-style snuggling at the hands of three beefy jailbirds.

If Franck thought he was doing Maurel a favor, he soon learns from a disfigured ex-cop (Sergi Lopez, in a bizarre supporting turn) that he was actually sharing bunk beds with a serial killer, which means that Franck’s family and hidden fortune are now in jeopardy. Forced to bust out of prison to save both his daughter (Jaia Caltagirone) and, eventually, his identity from being kidnapped by Maurel, he races across France to stop the nut case, crossing paths with a leggy detective (Alice Taglioni), who seems to enjoy kicking butt as much as he does.

Though there are promising moments early on, especially during Franck’s comically gruesome escape, Valette treads on familiar terrain: Debac plays Maurel as a less devious version of Kevin Spacey in Seven, while Taglioni inherits her instincts from Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs. As can happen when you borrow from a handful of hit movies, there are plenty of short-cuts and inconsistencies, such as the fact that French authorities have no way of halting a slow-moving commuter train once its leaves the station or that Franck easily survives a shooting, car crash and leap out the window of a 10-story high rise.

Like in 2009’s State Affairs, Valette proves that he can handle action sequences with panache, even if he doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. Sharp widescreen camerawork by Vincent Mathias (Caged) and crafty sound design by Pascal Villard (La Vie en rose) highlight a production that makes fine use of its limited pocketbook, but can’t surpass its limited plot.

Opens: In France, April 13
Production companies: Brio Films, StudioCanal, TF1 Films Production
Cast: Albert Dupontel, Alice Taglioni, Sergi Lopez, Stephane Debac, Natacha Regnier, Caterina Murino, Zinedine Soualem, Serge Hazanavicius
Director: Eric Valette
Screenwriters: Luc Bossi, Laurent Turner
Producer: Luc Bossi
Director of photography: Vincent Mathias
Production designer: Bertrand Seitz
Music: Noko
Costume designer: Fabienne Katany
Editors: Christophe Pinel, Fabrice Rouaud
Sales: StudioCanal
No rating, 104 minutes