Campana Jean Reno
Perrin Patrick Bruel
Wanu Harrisson Lowe
Maya Patricia Velasquez
Kumare Danny Trejo
With: Roland Blanche, Francois Perrot, Francis Lemaire, Alexandra Vandernoot.
In “The Jaguar,” a Parisian playboy pursued for bad debt jumps out of the frying pan and into the fire when chosen by an Amazon Indian to perform a crucial mission in the jungle. This polished, enjoyable comedy from scripter-helmer Francis Veber (back in Gaul after a decade in Hollywood) teams up two wildly popular French talents the much-beloved Jean Reno and boyish heartthrob Patrick Bruel in an exotic tale of magic and discovery that should take a healthy bite out of local B.O.
Pic’s three central characters meet one night in the elevator of Paris’ luxurious Hotel Crillon. Charming gambler Perrin (Bruel) is en route to a tryst with a woman he hopes to hit up for money. Wanu (Navajo actor Harrisson Lowe), an impish shaman in skimpy native dress, takes a shine to Perrin, grabs his nose and declares him the “chosen one.” Wanu’s interpreter, Campana (Reno), the Amazon-raised son of French anthropologists, has brought the Indian to Paris to publicize the endangered rain forest.
Ingeniously tracing him to his upscale digs, Wanu drugs the increasingly put-upon Perrin and, through ritual markings and incantations, seals the mystical link between them. The next day, Wanu, whose tribe believes that a man dies when his soul has been stolen, collapses from a heart attack and, at death’s door, calls for Perrin.
Leaned on by gangsters for an unpaid debt, Perrin agrees to accompany Campana to the rain forest to rescue the soul of Wanu known as “the jaguar” due to his reported ability to turn into a powerful jungle cat while he languishes in intensive care in Paris. The joke is that Perrin’s Amazonian adversaries are far more ruthless than the thugs back home.
Tapping into the mismatched-buddy mode that is one of his trademarks, helmer-scripter Veber plays up the reluctant partnership between Campana and Perrin. Pic blends classic farce and cross-cultural adventure with skill, although some viewers might have preferred a stronger ratio of gags to quasi-meaningful ecological filler.
Bruel is appealing as the selfish bon vivant whose life and values are transformed via contact with forces beyond his understanding. The physically imposing Reno is rock-solid in a role that would have played differently had more nebbishy first choice Vincent Lindon been available. Diminutive Lowe conveys an otherworldly mischief that effortlessly anchors the far-fetched plot.
Vladimir Cosma’s drum-inflected score is suitable, if not memorable. The film’s three-month shoot in Brazil and Venezuela yielded majestic vistas, sweat-inducing overgrowth and tribal outposts of surpassing authenticity.