Switch: Film Review

Gripping French thriller gets several things right, a few wrong.

Written by its director Frederic Schoendoerffer and crime novelist Jean-Christophe Grange, the French thriller Switch is part "Strangers on a Train," part "The Fugitive."

PARIS — A tightly wound French thriller which avoids some, but not all, of the genre’s pitfalls, Switch reps a solid fourth feature from writer-director Frederic Schoendoerffer (Secret Agents), making him one of France’s more worthy purveyors of kinetic, Hollywood-style fare. Although local box office won’t be spectacular, the Franco-Canadian co-production should find takers throughout Europe, while a Stateside studio might consider switching this into an English-language remake.

Doing a decent job in justifying some of its more dubious plot points (most of which are held back till the last reel), and keeping the pace turned up throughout, Switch is the kind of barebones, wrong man (or, in this case, woman) thriller that serves its purpose without trying to win awards or change the world.

Co-written by Schoendoerffer and crime novelist Jean-Christophe Grange (The Crimson Rivers), the script’s pitch is part Strangers on a Train, part The Fugitive: When Quebecoise fashion designer Sophie (Karine Vanasse) swaps her humble Montreal ranch house for a hôtel particulierin Paris, she’s hoping the change of scenery will boost her spirits. But after a day visiting various City of Lights landmarks, she wakes up the next morning with the police breaking down her door, behind which they find the decapitated corpse of an unknown male.

Clearly innocent of all charges, Sophie realizes she’s been set up by her psychotic home-swapping partner, Benedicte Serteaux (Karina Testa), who assumes her identity, traveling to Montreal to clean up any remaining traces. Meanwhile, a barrel-chested but otherwise soft detective, Forgeat (Eric Cantona), attempts to deconstruct Sophie’s various alibis. That is until she gives him the slip, taking along his gun and street cred as she sets out to nab the real killer.

That turnaround scene, where Sophie displays uncanny combat capabilities for someone we previously saw lugging around her design portfolio or, at best, jogging in the park, may not convince viewers looking for explanations behind Switch’s many action sequences, the highlight of which is an extended foot chase throughout a serene French suburb. But Schoendoerffer never takes things too far either, giving his film a gritty and realistic texture, while making fine use of Paris’ narrow streets and apartment hallways to show how the world is closing in around Sophie.

Canadian actress Vanasse (Polytechnique) definitely holds her own, especially when she’s on the run, and her performance is persuasive even when the screenplay itself is not. (Thankfully, the filmmakers do take the time to explain why Sophie doesn’t speak with a Quebecois accent, which likely would have incurred the wrath of French audiences.)

As the sympathetic yet rather incompetent Forgeat, former Manchester United footballer Cantona (Looking for Eric) proves that he can do steady low-key work, although given the cackles heard during a recent public screening, he’s yet to convince local viewers. (Picture, say, Barry Bonds playing a schlubby cop, and you’ll have an idea of what they’re contending with.)

Tech contributions are fine, with cool widescreen cinematography by Vincent Gallot (shooting his first feature), and a score by Bruno Coulais (Coraline) that never overreaches.

Opens: In France July 6
Production companies: Carcharodon, L&G, Pathe, France 2 Cinema, Jouror Productions, Tercera Prod.
Cast: Karine Vanasse, Eric Cantona, Mehdi Nebbou, Aurelien Recoing, Karina Testa, Bruno Todeschini, Maxim Roy, Niseema
Director: Frederic Schoendoerffer
Screenwriters: Frederic Schoendoerffer, Jean-Christophe Grange
Producer: Eric Neve
Executive producer: Adrien Maigne
Director of photography: Vincent Gallot
Production designer: Jean-Marc Kerdhelue
Music: Bruno Coulais
Costume designer: Marie-Laure Lasson, Claire Lacaze
Editor: Dominique Mazzoleni
Sales Agent: Pathe International
No rating, 101 minutes