Lightning definitely doesn’t strike twice in the same place for young French director Pierre Salvadori, who bowed impressively with the beautifully honed black comedy “Wild Target” two years back. His sophomore feature, “The Apprentices,” is a meandering, only intermittently funny comedy about two losers that moseys along with no one at the wheel. Pic may find an initial audience in France on the strength of Salvadori’s rep, but there’s not much shaking here for offshore enthusiasts of Gallic cinema.
Guillaume Depardieu (son of) plays longhaired slob Fred, who shares an apartment with Antoine (Francois Cluzet, the bag thief in “French Kiss”). Antoine wants to be a serious playwright but instead ekes out a living writing for a kung fu magazine and compiling crosswords, in between fretting over a broken relationship and spending time with a cautious friend, Sylvie (Judith Henry). Fred, who has no visible talents or ambition, tries to pick up beautiful babe Agnes (Claire Laroche) by posing as a photographer.
After three reels or so of the pair lolling around and talking about this and that, a plot of sorts comes into view when the apartment’s owner, Benoit, suddenly announces he’s selling the place. Strapped for coin, the duo rob the kung fu magazine’s safe one night but give themselves away when Antoine accidentally leaves his keys at the scene of the crime.
Meanwhile, Fred appears to be making headway with Agnes, who invites him round to her apartment for some lovemaking in front of her boyfriend Patrick (Bernard Yerles). Like much else in the film, this curious development is never clarified and doesn’t seem to lead anywhere. When Antoine has a nervous breakdown and eventually comes out of care, Fred tries to help him by arranging a meeting with an old g.f. But it’s the friend’s flatmate, the slightly weird Lorette (Marie Trintignant), who turns up for the pic’s equally weird finale.
With false plot trails littering the screen, the most the pic has to offer is an offbeat study of two loser buddies. Though there are occasional flashes of the straight-faced humor that propelled “Wild Target,” for most of the time the dialogue is just plain dreary, with no sense of pacing.
Depardieu, who was OK as the trainee hit man in “Wild Target” when partnered with the veteran Jean Rochefort, doesn’t have the presence or charisma to carry a loosely scripted item like this. The more experienced Cluzet, looking and moving like a Gallic Dustin Hoffman, is better but doesn’t get much to bite on. The waifish Henry is also underemployed, and Trintignant’s curious cameo looks more like a thank you for her terrific role as a kleptomaniac in “Target.”
Tech credits are variable, with no overall style to Gilles Henry’s lensing, which ranges from the bright to the murky.