"The Japanese had 'The Seven Samurai,' the Americans had 'The Magnificent Seven' and we've got 'The Seven Troublemakers'!" laments the disgruntled police chief of a low-income Paris burb in "Yamakasi."

“The Japanese had ‘The Seven Samurai,’ the Americans had ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and we’ve got ‘The Seven Troublemakers’!” laments the disgruntled police chief of a low-income Paris burb in “Yamakasi.” The real-life lads who make up the titular fraternity manage to scale tall buildings in multiple bounds with only guts, agility and knees like industrial shock absorbers to propel them. With action and empathy on the surface and specious ethics at its core, this local hit doesn’t hold up to the slightest scrutiny. But with 2 million admissions on 400 prints in its third week, since opening April 4, young Gauls are eating up this peppy vehicle for multiracial Robins from the ‘hood.

Producer Luc Besson spotted the Yamakasi (purportedly a word of Zairian origin) on a TV news report. Impressed by their athletic antics — which treat the concrete architecture of the Paris projects like rock-climbing walls and mistake hard surfaces for trampolines — signed them up for the silver screen, starting with ninja-esque stunts in “Taxi 2.”

The young men in question have charisma as well as sinew, and they are fun to watch. But once we’ve seen the crew scamper up a 24-story building at dawn before hightailing it down the other side ahead of the police, the narrative concentrates too much on trumped-up humanitarian efforts and not enough on acrobatics.

Paper-thin is too generous to describe the plot, and there’s more character development in a just-snapped Polaroid photo. Nine-year-old Jamel has a heart condition and is forbidden to exert himself; responding to taunts from his pals, he tries to climb a tree and falls. Result: He needs a heart transplant in the next 24 hours, and Jamel’s penniless family has until noon the following day to come up with 400,000 francs ($58,000) for the Heart Transplant Corp. to broker a deal for an organ in Switzerland.

The Yamakasi decide they’re justified in burglarizing the lavish homes of HTC’s seven board members to raise the loot, because — well, because rich people have too much money and generic 9-year-old boys don’t have any.

Bulk of pic consists of nattily dressed Yamakasis breaking, entering and then exiting with jewels, priceless knickknacks and even a Klimt painting. They remove the contents of one guy’s safe and leave him a rude note and a rap tape. They outwit vicious dogs. They’re rude to the police, including a sympathetic buddy on the force. But it’s all for a good cause.

Pic’s skedded April 4 release was jeopardized when its helmer, Julien Seri, and co-scripter Philippe Lyon hauled Besson’s Leeloo Prods. into court, demanding $4.5 million in damages for tampering with their artistic vision. Although the court ruled in Besson’s favor on that charge, a separate labor court subsequently awarded Seri $50,000. With this visually efficient but morally bankrupt pic minting money at the box office, such legal headaches will hardly create a dent in company coffers.

Yamakasi

France

Production

A Europa Corp. Distribution release of a Digital City presentation of a Leeloo Prods./TF1 Films Prod. production, with participation of Canal Plus. Produced by Luc Besson. Executive producer, Virginie Silla. Directed by Ariel Zeitoun, with an initial contribution by Julien Seri. Screenplay, Besson, Philippe Lyon, Seri, based on an original idea by Charles Perriere, Besson.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Philippe Piffeteau; editor, Yann Herve; music, Joey Starr, DJ Spank; production designers, Frederic and Caroline Duru, Fred and Fred Lapierre; costume designer, Olivier Beriot; sound (Dolby), Lauren Zeilig, Didier Lozahic. Reviewed at UGC Les Halles, Paris, April 25, 2001. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Chau Belle Dinh, Williams Belle, Malik Diouf, Yann Hnautra, Guylain N'Guba Boyeke, Laurent Piemontesi, Charles Perriere.

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