On the Other Side of the Tracks: Film Review

A fun French update of 80’s cop comedies, with Omar Sy standing in for Eddie Murphy.

Omar Sy stars in this "Beverly Hills Cop"-style caper from director David Charhon.

PARIS -- Two French cops raised On the Other Side of the Tracks (De l’autre côté du périph) team up for action, mayhem and class-conscious humor in this throwback buddy caper starring Intouchables golden boy Omar Sy.

Wearing its 80’s movie references proudly on its sleeve, this old school cop thriller from director David Charhon (Cyprien) features lots of fun-filled comic banter between Sy and co-star Laurent Lafitte, as their characters cross social and geographical barriers to investigate the murder of a business mogul’s wife. Despite narrative snags and a number of jokes that fall flat, there’s enough quick and dirty enjoyment to reach a decent-sized holiday audience for the film’s local release, while foreign sales – including a Stateside one to The Weinstein Company – should remain strong.

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Kicking off with a chase on the beltway (or périphérique, as per the French title) separating Paris from its tougher, economically strapped banlieues, we’re quickly introduced to bad boy detective Ousmane (Sy), who wrecks his car and is then mistaken for the assailant by his fellow police officers. (This will not be the last time that happens.) The next day, the body of a woman married to industry tycoon Chaligny (André Marcon) turns up nearby Ousmane’s Bobigny housing project, and he draws a connection between the two incidents that may help him solve both crimes at once.

But in order to make himself heard, Ousmane needs to hook up with a visiting Parisian investigator who has much more departmental clout: the smooth-talking, germ-hating pretty boy François Monge (Lafitte). As incompatible as the different neighborhoods where they live and work, the pair eventually finds common ground through their love of manhandling suspects and kicking butt, making their way from the projects to Paris and back again, and proving that the boundaries dividing them are less ominous than most people would think.

Clearly positioning itself in the line of 48 Hours, Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills Cop, – all of which are directly cited in the movie, the latter via a poster, several shout-outs and a ring tone – Tracks nonetheless offers up a very French spin on the opposites attract/cop bromance scenario. Although Ousmane is black and François is white, race is less of an issue here than questions of social standing and professional etiquette, and the screenwriters (Charhon, Remy Four and Julien War) cleverly reveal that while certain attitudes fail us in our own 'hoods, they work wonders elsewhere, and that we’re less held back by the system than by the way we decide to engage it.

The film is not without its lags and plot holes – such as Ousmane’s personal backstory, which gets dropped midway through – and the action scenes are often sliced and diced to the point of incomprehension, if not tedium. What works much better is the constant bickering between the two leads, both of whom offer genuinely funny performances, with Sy recycling some of the schtick (including the dance moves) that made him an international star, and the terrific Lafitte (a member of the Comédie-Française) dishing out one-liners with a snarky straight face.

A rock-heavy score by Ludovic Bource (The Artist) keeps things fast and friendly, while the use of Cameo’s “Word Up!” in the closing credits sends Tracks straight back to the mid-80s, where it would surely like to stay.

Production companies: Mandarin Cinema, Mars Films, M6 Films

Cast: Omar Sy, Laurent Lafitte, Sabrina Ouazani, Lionel Abelanski, Zabou Breitman

Director: David Charhon

Screenwriters: Remy Four, Julien War, David Charhon, based on an original idea by Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer

Producers: Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer

Director of photography: Alain Duplantier

Production designer: Thierry Chavenon

Music: Ludovic Bource

Costume designer: Marite Coutard

Editor: Stéphane Pereira

Sales Agent: Other Angle Pictures

No rating, 95 minutes