The Volcano (Eyjafjallajokull): Film Review

Concept trumps content in this formulaic French comedy.

The creators of "Heartbreaker" and "The Intouchables" dish out a new big-budget comedy starring Dany Boon ("Welcome to the Sticks") and Valerie Bonneton ("Little White Lies").

PARIS – A long-divorced couple embarks on a wacky -- and rather, wack -- European road trip in The Volcano (Eyjafjallajokull), a high-concept comedy that’s way too formulaic to breathe new life into the tried-and-tested warring spouses genre. Produced and written by the team behind such bona fide French hits as The Intouchables and Heartbreaker, and starring box-office champ Dany Boon (Welcome to the Sticks), the film has everything going for it except two characters you want to spend time with, resulting in a slickly made, sporadically funny and highly expensive Punch & Judy show.

Budgeted at €20 million ($27 million) and buoyed by a formidable marketing campaign, the film should see solid numbers for its Oct. 2 release in France, where comic favorite Boon can still draw a good audience. Francophone action should also be strong, while overseas theatrical stints are possible -- although the movie’s broad humor will most likely appeal to local tastes.

From Adam’s Rib to The War of the Roses to Intolerable Cruelty, the sight of a man and woman duking it out, sometimes with the help of assault weapons (Mr. and Mrs. Smith), has been a popular screen attraction. In most cases, the idea is to have two people who have fallen out of love eventually fall back in love a second time, in what philosopher Stanley Cavell cleverly termed “the comedy of remarriage.”

Combining that genre’s most prevalent tropes with a road movie plot straight out of Planes, Trains and Automobiles (or its recent, paler copy, Due Date), writer-director Alexandre Coffre and co-writers Laurent Zeitoun and Yoann Gromb present a pair of exes -- driver’s ed teacher Alain (Boon) and veterinarian Valerie (Valerie Bonneton) -- who inadvertently board the same flight to attend their daughter’s wedding in Greece. When the plane is suddenly grounded due to the 2010 eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull (thus the film’s unpronounceable original-language title), the former couple is forced to walk, drive, hitchhike, carjack and eventually co-pilot their way southeast, in the hopes of making it to the ceremony on time.

Presented off the bat as two people filled with so much hate that they’ve removed one another’s faces from a baby photo, the duo spends much of the first act trying to make sure only one of them will reach Greece unscathed, if at all. The abuse they inflict is mostly verbal, sometimes physical -- this wouldn’t be a French comedy without at least one scene of a woman getting her ass kicked -- and always mean-spirited, providing random chuckles amid lots of over-the-top nonsense (especially in a long sequence involving a born-again psychopath (Denis Menochet).

As the rules dictate, Alain and Valerie gradually open up to their polar opposites, but the script offers so little in terms of psychology -- basically, he’s a friendly family man, she’s a bitchy workaholic -- that their characters hardly evolve over the journey. Instead, the filmmakers try one gag after another, a few of them quite clever (a scene with an Albanian girl), most of them of the slapstick variety, while a handful of witty lines are interspersed with repeated shouts of “salope,” “encule” and the like.

Not that The Volcano isn’t efficiently packaged: DP Pierre Cottereau (In Their Sleep) does a fine job capturing the  Euro locations in sharp widescreen, while editor Sophie Fourdrinoy (who cut Coffre’s first feature, the crime comedy Borderline) keeps the pace brisk, with the whole shebang clocking in at 90 minutes. Likewise, Boon and Bonneton (Little White Lies) form an energetic team -- the latter revealing herself as one of France’s finer female comic talents, even if here she plays a character with little depth.

But as much as the movie ticks off all the right boxes, there’s something rather soulless about the whole affair, as if Coffre and company are merely following instructions as they assemble an expensive piece of furniture. Couples thrive on surprises, so conventional wisdom states, and although plenty of crazy things happen to the anti-couple at the heart of The Volcano, nothing ever seems out of the ordinary.

Production: Quad, TF1 Films Production, Scope Pictures, Mars Films, Les Productions Ch’timi, Chaocorp Developpement

Cast: Dany Boon, Valerie Bonneton, Denis Menochet, Albert Delpy

Director: Alexandre Coffre

Screenwriters: Laurent Zeitoun, Yoann Gromb, Alexandre Coffre, based on an original idea by Yoann Gromb

Producers: Nicolas Duval Adassovsky, Yann Zenou, Laurent Zeitoun

Director of photography: Pierre Cottereau

Production designer: Gwendal Bescond

Costume designer: Sonia Philouze

Editor: Sophie Fourdrinoy

Music: Thomas Roussel

Sales: Kinology

No rating, 91 minutes