After striking a Faustian bargain, a mismatched pair of Frenchmen are forced to take the devil by the horns in “Break of Dawn.” Vet helmer Alexandre Arcady pulls off plenty of widescreen mayhem with reasonable flair, but fumbles the emotional stakes, watering down an enticing premise with compound implausibilities. However, shoot-’em-up aspect of this suspense actioner is exciting enough to spur some offshore sales.
Adrien (Richard Berry) is a sophisticated bank robber with leukemia who wishes he wasn’t about to die, and Werner (Said Taghmaoui) is a young mercenary sharpshooter with a death wish. Both are recruited by the slick Radman (Joaquim de Almeida) to travel to Bucharest and take pot shots at a Romanian politician. In exchange for heaps of cash, Adrien and Werner agree to be shot dead by the politico’s men afterward to make the candidate look daring and invincible to voters.
Adrien, who was released from prison because his days are numbered, wants to provide for his wife (Anouk Grinberg) and young son. Werner, who’s survived several suicide attempts, wants to get his life over with, while leaving his brother lotsa dough.
Forty-five minutes in, the doomed duo hold up their part of the bargain — but nobody creams them in return. As various prominent Romanians successively bite the dust, Adrien and Werner realize they’ve been set up by Radman as all-purpose scapegoats for his own murderous ambitions. Suddenly, two guys who couldn’t wait to croak need to stay alive long enough to exact revenge.
Shoot-outs, car chases, and double- and triple-crosses proliferate. Arcady is obviously interested in the 11th-hour camaraderie between Adrien’s cool head and Werner’s hot head, but their expedient friendship feels forced. Multiple conclusions make final coda long in coming.
Berry, working with the helmer for the sixth time, seems slightly adrift, although that may simply be his interpretation of a dying man on morphine. Taghmaoui tries too hard to be erratic, convincing only in fits and starts. Almeida, however, makes a smooth villain.
Sickly, yellow-brown color-palette gives an otherworldly tone to much of the pic, which was largely lensed in Romania. Music is sometimes muscular, sometimes sappy, with two gung-ho songs performed by Johnny Hallyday that are as jarring as product placement in a funeral home.