It's nearly impossible to imagine French cinema today without the talents of Josiane Balasko, Michel Blanc, Marie-Anne Chazel, Christian Clavier, Gerard Jugnot, Thierry Lhermitte and helmer Patrice Leconte. But, it would have been just fine if they hadn't gone to the trouble of reviving the characters that made them famous 27 years ago.

It’s nearly impossible to imagine French cinema today without the formidable comic and dramatic talents of Josiane Balasko, Michel Blanc, Marie-Anne Chazel, Christian Clavier, Gerard Jugnot, Thierry Lhermitte and helmer Patrice Leconte. But, it would have been just fine if they hadn’t gone to the trouble of reviving the vacation-comedy screen characters that made them famous 27 years ago. Nonetheless, every French citizen old enough to walk knows these characters and, through the media, they know they’re back. Therefore, quality aside, “Les Bronzes 3: Friends Forever” opened huge Feb. 1 and should attract several million viewers on home turf, its main earner.

Pic perpetuates the Gallic tradition of vacation films where people counting on having a good time meet with various impediments. The original “Les Bronzes” (1978) — literally, “the suntanned ones” — lampooned the clientele and staff of a place modeled on the then relatively new Club Med resorts. Like the 1979 sequel, “Les Bronzes Go Skiing,” it was a satisfactory hit, and both pics still grab around 10 million viewers (in a country of 60 million) on TV airings.

The ensemble, which ran a Paris theater as a collective, earned roughly $7,000 a head for contributions and perfs to the original two films. In contrast, the current pic cost a reported 35 million euros ($43.7 million), much of it spent on renting — for two months during high season — the luxury resort where it’s set. This time around, the six writer-thesps are on points.

Third installment provides plausible middle-aged personas for the obnoxious middle-brow protags. While anyone can follow the shenanigans, most of the viewing pleasure is in seeing how this bunch of petty jerks turned out.

Unrepentant ladies’ man Popeye (Lhermitte) has reverted to his real name, Robert, and manages an idyllic resort in Sardinia with his Italian wife, Graziella (Ornella Muti). He’s been cheating on her with an extremely shapely young chef.

When Graziella returns early from a business trip, the on-the-house visits of Robert’s French friends have to cease — but unfortunately, all five arrive that same day.

Jerome (Clavier), who was a prominent plastic surgeon until a costly malpractice suit put him out of business, is eager to reconnect with ex-wife Gigi (Chazel).

But Gigi, sporting an F-cup boob-job, arrives with Jean-Claude Dusse (Blanc), who owns a chain of California hair salons specializing in wigs.

The Morins, Bernard (Jugnot) and Nathalie (Balasko), own a chain of eyeglass shops. They’re obnoxious in a self-satisfied way and, although they have a 27-year old son — whose parentage becomes a plot point — they dote on their little dog.

It takes a while for all of the components of the story to fall into place, but the pace gradually accelerates, with just enough invention to sustain an acceptable level of diverting spectacle, even if outright hilarity is rare.

As the thesps themselves created all the characters and co-wrote the script, they play their parts to perfection, in broadly caricatured style.

On the visual side, apart from Leconte’s trademark use of widescreen, there’s nothing else to distinguish this as one of the helmer’s movies.

Les Bronzes 3: Friends Forever

France

Production

A Warner Bros. Distribution France release of a Christian Fechner presentation of a Films Christian Fechner, TF1 Films Prod., Fechner Prods. production, with participation of TPS Star. (International sales: Roissy Film, Paris.) Produced by Christian Fechner. Executive producer, Herve Truffaut. Directed by Patrice Leconte. Screenplay, Josiane Balasko, Michel Blanc, Marie-Anne Chazel, Christian Clavier, Gerard Jugnot, Thierry Lhermitte.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Jean-Marie Dreujou; editor, Joelle Hache; music, Etienne Perruchon; production designer, Ivan Maussion; costume designer, Cecile Magnan; sound (Dolby), Daniel Ollivier, Jean Goudier, Dominique Hennequin; line producer, Jean-Louis Nieuwbourg; associate producer, Alexandra Fechner. Reviewed at UGC Danton, Paris, Feb. 5, 2006. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Josiane Balasko, Michel Blanc, Marie-Anne Chazel, Christian Clavier, Gerard Jugnot, Thierry Lhermitte, Ornella Muti, Dominique Lavanant, Martin Lamotte, Bruno Moynot, Caterina Murino, Doris Kunstmann, Arthur Jugnot, Eric Naggar.
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