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The Daltons

The spirit of the Three Stooges percolates "The Daltons," a cartoonish jamboree of immature behavior that's faithful to the bestselling "Lucky Luke" comic books set in the American West. Huge, built-in recognition factor should make family-friendly pic perform nicely in certain territories.

Cast:
With: Eric, Ramzy, Said Serrari, Romain Berger, Marthe Villalonga, Javivi, Sylvie Joly, Ginette Garcin, Marie-Pierre Casey, Til Schweiger, Kad Merad, Elie Semoun, Michel Muller, Jean Benguigui, Jean Dujardin, Darry Cowl. (French dialogue)

The spirit of the Three Stooges percolates “The Daltons,” a cartoonish jamboree of immature behavior that’s faithful to the bestselling “Lucky Luke” comic books set in the American West. Negligible storyline follows the four dim-witted Dalton brothers as they try to live up to their larcenous mom’s expectations when they are not being stymied by laconic cowboy lawman Lucky Luke. Huge, built-in recognition factor should make family-friendly pic perform nicely in certain territories, but film seems less likely to blaze a trail in outposts where the bumbling bandits and mumbling Luke aren’t pop-culture icons.

Popular French comics Eric and Ramzy — who also had script input under their full names Eric Judor and Ramzy Bedia — play, respectively, oldest brother Joe and youngest brother Averell. Joe, who can’t control his temper, is the cretinous quartet’s de facto mastermind; Averell is marginally smarter and far nicer. (Think Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in “Zoolander” to approximate the mental ballpark.) Less distinctive middle brothers are Jack (Said Serrari) and William (Romain Berger).

No-nonsense Ma Dalton (vet Marthe Villalonga) holds up stagecoaches with her best friends: Ma Billy (Sylvie Joly), Ma James (Ginette Garcin) and Ma Cassidy (Marie-Pierre Casey). While Ma’s distaff colleagues brag about the exploits of their ill-famed offspring, Ma Dalton is chronically embarrassed by her boys’ inability to make their mark as nogoodnik desperadoes. So, she tells them not to bother coming home until they’ve robbed the high-security Gulch City bank.

The brothers try to make Ma proud, but straight-arrow loner Lucky Luke (German thesp Til Schweiger) — who can outdraw his own shadow and whose talking horse is a chess wiz — catches them redhanded at various illegal pursuits. They go to prison. They break out. Then, tipped off by a Mexican cellmate (popular comic Kad Merad) to the existence of a magic sombrero, the Daltons cross the border to confront the much-feared El Tarlo (Javivi).

With its lovingly recreated atmosphere, pic will impress “Lucky Luke” aficionados with its faithful sets and costumes, and persistently silly humor. However, non-initiates may find the extra step from authenticity to entertainment comes only in fits and starts.

Snazzy production, with interiors shot in Germany and exteriors in Spain, is an ambitious accomplishment for helmer Philippe Haim, who first attracted attention with claustrophobic two-hander “Barracuda” (1997). Playful score, with nods to composers from Ennio Morricone to Henry Mancini, is pro.

The Daltons

France-Germany-Spain

Production: A UFD/UGC Distribution release of a UGC presentation of a UGC Images, TF1 Films Prod., 4MLP, 4MBP (France)/Integral Film (Germany)/Castelao Prods. (Spain) production. (International sales: UGC Intl., Paris.) Produced by Said Ben Said, Yves Marmion. Executive producer, Gerard Gaultier. Co-producers, Alfred Hurmer, Julio Fernandez. Directed by Philippe Haim. Screenplay, Michel Hazanavicius, Eric Judor, Ramzy Bedia, inspired by the work of Morris in homage to Rene Goscinny .

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), David Carretero; editor, Richard Marizy; music, Alexandre Azaria; production designer, Olivier Raoux; costume designer, Charlotte David; sound (Dolby), Lucine Balibar; Digital effects, L'E.S.T. ; casting, Francoise Menidrey. Reviewed at UGC Bercy, Paris, Nov. 28, 2004. Running time: 89 MIN.

With: With: Eric, Ramzy, Said Serrari, Romain Berger, Marthe Villalonga, Javivi, Sylvie Joly, Ginette Garcin, Marie-Pierre Casey, Til Schweiger, Kad Merad, Elie Semoun, Michel Muller, Jean Benguigui, Jean Dujardin, Darry Cowl. (French dialogue)

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