Real and bogus contract killers end up on a competitive rally in the wilds of Patagonia to mixed comic effect in “The Race,” which is squarely aimed at French teens, with adults left to wonder what could be considered entertaining about endless bickering among buddies. Pic’s conscientious local marketing campaign suggests encouraging B.O. in Gaul, where undiscerning youths probably will relish the slangy dialogue. Export prospects are less certain.
Helmer Djamel Bensalah, now 25, had a surprise hit in 1999 with “Homeboys on the Beach” (Le ciel, les oiseaux et … ta mere!), a technically rudimentary but genuinely funny low-budgeter about an interracial group of pals from the projects who win a trip to a ritzy beach resort. Pic helped cement the fame of then-rising TV cutup Jamel Debbouze.
Current effort suffered a tragic setback in December 2000, when vet d.p. Bernard Lutic and production manger Patrick Lancelot were killed in a plane crash while scouting locations in Venezuela. Elapsed time should have given filmmakers the chance to devise a solid, engaging script to go along with the exotic vistas; but narrative never rises above the merely adequate.
Four pals from the projects — Sami (Roschdy Zem), Kader (Julien Courbey), Tacchini (Lorant Deutsch) and Yaya (Atmen Kelif) — specialize in breaking-and-entering for Carlito (Gerard Jugnot), a feared but buffonish nightclub owner in greater Paris. After they botch a job, Carlito gives them a chance to lie low and redeem themselves by sending them to Montreal to keep tabs on his flight attendant girlfriend Nathalie (Axelle Laffont). But a mixup causes the four bumbling crooks to be mistaken for a crack team of professional hitmen.
The error is made by Lino (Didier Flamand), trusted financial counselor to Quebec’s wealthy but apparently cursed De Segonzac family, whose only surviving member is Leonore (Helene de Fougerolles). Lino offers the lads $4 million — half up front — to kill Leonore, in the guise of an “accident” during an extreme rally in Pantagonia.
So, while they’re supposed to be spying on Nathalie in Canada, the quartet ends up skydiving into hostile territory thousands of miles away. And when the real assassin, Mme. Jo (Josiane Balasko), and her three-man crew arrive, Lino instructs her to eliminate Leonore and our four heroes.
Script largely consists of bickering as the inexperienced quartet attempts to reach the 10 rally checkpoints, through mountains, water and snow, while procrastinating about icing Leonore. Soon, they have on their tails not only Mme. Jo but also a deadly detachment of U.N. peacekeepers.
Running gags include the lads’ habit of jettisoning useful equipment so they can schlep all their duty-free purchases through the jungle, and the use of the record jacket from a rare Barry White LP as protection from the elements. But most of the humor revolves around accusations, Yaya’s chronic constipation, bluster, fibs and bursts of violence.
As urban dim bulbs trying to pass as elite outdoor athletes, the thesps are all gung-ho. With lensing in Louisiana, Venezuela, the French Alps and the studio, pic spans all climates, but Bensalah rarely makes the most of the settings. Exceptions are impressive segs on a waterfall and a suspension bridge.