The “Hey, everybody! Let’s put on a show!” gambit has seen countless previous incarnations, but only Claude Lelouch would think of setting crucial portions of his show-cum-showdown aboard the Concorde in flight. Despite what some may see as an anti-feminist slant, this peppy salvo in the battle of the sexes manages to end up on the side of the angels, and result is miles above most recent Gallic comedies. Given its attractive and talented crew, this sole pic, cleared to land in theaters Jan. 1 (apart from the Imax presentation of “Fantasia/2000”), should reap handsome returns on runways throughout Gaul, with smooth connecting flights to offshore arthouses.
The elaborate yet easy-to-follow narrative of “One 4 All” pursues three actresses whose legit careers are going nowhere as they deploy their most seductive thesping skills in a rather less-than-legit ongoing performance: the mercenary pursuit of wealthy men.
In search of advice on how to adapt to the screen a true caper he’s recently unraveled, debonair and soon-to-retire Commissioner Bayard (Jean-Pierre Marielle) of the Paris vice squad pays a prison visit to a wily film producer (Francois Perrot). Bayard’s literally captive audience proves an ideal sounding board — and sharp plot device — as Bayard recounts the body of the film and invites the prisoner to poke holes in it. According to the incarcerated producer, “The secret of a successful film is simplicity, so everyone can understand it — even intellectuals.”
To repay debts run up in staging a self-financed production of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters,” Olga (Anne Parillaud), Irina (Marianne Denicourt) and Macha (British-born Alice Evans) accept a suggestion from Irina’s younger sister, Olivia (Olivia Bonamy), who works at the Concorde check-in desk and has had it with finicky, wealthy passengers. Olivia, who knows which flight will include particularly well-heeled men, puts a new spin on air traffic control by arranging for her friends to be booked in seats right beside their marks.
Armed with extensive advance research and a sure-to-lure fake identity, the women can charm guys off their feet and maintain chaste courtships long enough to benefit from their generosity — in the form of gems and cash — before finding an excuse to dump them.
Olga ends up next to Oscar (Rudiger Vogler), a hotshot orchestra conductor who has few qualms about dropping his wife (Anouk Aimee) when he learns Olga is a direct descendant of his favorite composer, Bach. Similarly, an insanely wealthy nightclub kingpin (Constantin Alexandrov) who’s obsessed with acquiring and furnishing French chateaux, loses interest in his spouse (Andrea Ferreol) when he discovers seatmate Irina is an antiques dealer who’s a direct descendant of Marie-Antoinette.
Macha beguiles the president (Maka Kotto) of an unnamed African state when she casually reveals she’s the granddaughter of famed benefactor to Africa Albert Schweitzer. The three femmes give their perfs of a lifetime, to a very select audience. And the show goes on — and on — because shaking their new swains proves dicier than expected.
Bayard stumbles onto the scam shortly after being paired with young cop Sam (Samy Naceri, from the Luc Besson-produced “Taxi”), who has just been transferred to vice. With the help of enigmatic looker Maxime (Alessandra Martines, Lelouch’s real-life wife), the two are staking out Russian mobsters who conduct much of their shady business from seats with excellent sightlines of the topless beauties at the Lido.
Scenes in which the three lasses prepare for their roles are a hoot, as they’re coached by a prostie on the fine points of the world’s oldest profession and practice crying on cue. The excuses they make to hold furtive brainstorming sessions when things spin out of control are also tops. Although the script should be a leaky sieve, all concerned effectively create the illusion of a story that holds water nearly as well as the Hoover Dam.
Lelouch keeps calling attention to the fact that he’s making a movie, but the audience is so caught up in the story, it forgets — until the next time it’s reminded. Helmer proves he has the common touch by seamlessly incorporating Chekhov, Bach and Schweitzer into a script that anybody who’s ever been on a date can grasp.
Inside jokes about Lelouch’s up-and-down career, and French filmmaking in general, are smoothly included for fans and buffs. Helmer’s love for and appreciation of women fairly drips off the wide screen, and his habits of not providing dialogue for a project until the last minute and encouraging improvisation while multiple cameras roll, visibly keep thesps on their toes.
Three femme leads are terrif, as are their male foils. Pic is shrewdly cast with actors from several generations, and the whole package is involving and entertaining, funny and suspenseful, without a hint of a lull. Lensing and editing are flattering and fluid, and score makes tongue-in-cheek use of the classics. Movie’s only blip is the last five minutes and the closing-credits imagery, which extend into a few superfluous points.
French title is a feminine version of the Musketeers’ famous slogan about sticking together, come what may.