Tour de Force (La Grande Boucle): Film Review

Tour de Force Film Still - H 2013

Tour de Force Film Still - H 2013

Despite some impressive racing sequences, this French cycling comedy pulls a few too many flats.

Clovis Cornillac stars in this Tour de France comedy from director Laurent Tuel ("Ultimate Heist").

PARIS -- Racing ahead with a decent concept until it dopes itself on way too much feel-goodness, French cycling comedy Tour de Force (La Grande Boucle) never nabs the yellow jersey, but doesn’t exactly come in dead last, either. Rather, this slickly crafted effort from director Laurent Tuel (Ultimate Heist) sticks safely to the genre’s chosen routes while providing a few touching moments in its tale of a forlorn biking fanatic who embarks on his very own Tour de France, hoping to win his wife back in the process. Far from funny, yet easy enough on the eyes, this wide Wild Bunch release should see adequate summertime returns, especially in Francophonia.

A thrifty setup introduces us to Tour junkie Francois Nouel (Clovis Cornillac), who ditches vacation plans with his wife (Elodie Bouchez) and son (Paul Granier) to volunteer on the official support team of pro bike supplier Sport 2000. But his dreams soon are quashed when he gaffs at the company’s pre-race cocktail party, and the now jobless and wifeless Francois sees no other choice then to hop on his 10-speed and follow the Tour de France’s 3,500 km route anyway, riding alone and a day ahead of the actual racers.

Along the way, he crosses paths with a shady trainer/manager (the lively Bouli Lanners), who turns Francois into a bankable publicity stunt, as well as an extreme biking fan (Pierre Bojean), who follows the lone rider around in his Winnebago, providing encouragement, free meals and massages from his nudist wife (Annick Christiaens). Eventually, the Tour media circus catches on to Francois’ exploits, and he becomes a celebrity himself, stealing the spotlight from a trash-talking Italian cyclist (Ary Abittan) and raking in fans, sponsors and even his own doping scandal.

Lots of these elements could have been mined for laughs, but Tuel and a team of five screenwriters can hardly muster a workable gag, relying too much on broad caricature, especially with regards to the various bit players (including a thuggish French rapper -- played by real hip-hop artist Doudou Masta -- who happens to be a huge Tour fan himself).

The film plays somewhat better when it moves away from comedy to center on Francois’ family dilemma, which comes to a head after his son runs away, and he has to decide between finishing the race and becoming a responsible dad. Yet even there, Tuel turns everything into sentimental mush, wrapping up his story in an altogether unconvincing fashion, especially when it comes to the inevitable reconciliation between husband and wife -- the latter of whom is little more than a mindless plot point.

Perhaps one reason the humor falls so flat is leading man Cornillac (A Very Long Engagement), who seems too stiff for the broad-based comedy yet is never expressive enough for the dramatic sections. Where he does impress, however, is in the various racing sequences, which are handled realistically and beautifully photographed by DP Gilles Porte (The Conquest). It’s during these moments that Tuel reveals some of the craftiness he displayed in his 2009 Jean Reno-starrer Ultimate Heist, and Tour de Force does a great job capturing the majestic landscapes and intense sportsmanship that have made the century-old event such a well-watched phenomenon.

Further enhancing the athleticism are several cameos by actual Tour de France champions (including Bernard Hinault and Laurent Jalabert) -- a stunt likely to please diehard fans who may otherwise be let down by the film’s fluffy finale.

Production companies: Fidelite Films, Wild Bunch, TF1 Films Production, France 2 Cinema

Cast: Clovis Cornillac, Bouli Lanners, Ary Abittan, Bruno Lochet, Elodie Bouchez

Director: Laurent Tuel

Screenwriters: Romain Protat, Lyes Belaidouni, Yohan Levy, Stephane Ben Lahcene, Mathieu Ouillon

Producers: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier, Nicolas Souhami, Renaud Souhami

Director of photography: Gilles Porte

Production designer: Arnaud de Moleron

Costume designers: Emmanuelle Youchnovski, Annabel Leroy

Music: Andre Manoukian

Editor: Antoine Vareille

Sales Agent: Wild Bunch

No rating, 97 minutes