Illicit drug testing and mountain-road smash-ups are just what the doctor ordered in “The New Protocol,” a kinetic new thriller from writer-director Thomas Vincent, who helmed the Hitchcockian “The Trap” (2004). Steroid-jacked rehash of “The Constant Gardener” piles up cars and corpses as a lumberjack, hoping to avenge his son’s death, body-slams his way through France’s pharmaceutical industry. Hot-rod co-writer Eric Besnard (“Cash Truck”) administers a heavy dose of MacGuffins, but gritty action and tight editing help reduce unpleasant side effects. Local auds haven’t been hooked thus far, though tube and DVD may prove more profitable.
Divorcee Raoul Kraft (Clovis Cornillac) lives a stoical woodsman’s life, felling trees by day and eating microwaveable dinners by night. His teenage son’s fatal car accident turns an already sullen existence into one of utter gloom and doom. A strong but not-too-subtle mourning scene early on has him taking out his paternal anguish on an innocent evergreen, first with a chainsaw, then with an ax, and then with his bloody bare hands.
Enter Diane (Marie-Josee Croze), a lefty conspiracy theorist who warns Raoul that his son, who was working as a guinea pig for various testing labs, was the target of an experimental drug cover-up. Angry Raoul then burns rubber to Paris to take on the baddies at their elite corporate HQ.
What at this point could easily have veered into a man-on-a-bloody-revenge-mission pic a la “Payback” is thrown intriguingly off course, as Diane’s theories start to unravel in the face of hard facts. Filmmakers smartly insert these and a few other narrative monkey wrenches, undermining the expected blue-collar-protag-vs.-multinational-Godzilla showdown, keeping viewers guessing to the end.
Final act has Raoul on the run when Diane’s paranoid antics leave one cop dead and another with a migraine-inducing head wound. Docu-style epilogue — mimicking a similar prologue — serves as a warning for anyone still willing to let the Pfizers and GlaxoSmithKlines of this world off the hook.
Delving deeply into the Hitchcock toolbox, Besnard and Vincent turn up a truckload of twists and teasers to help sustain their adrenaline-charged thriller. Some of them work, but others leave a fair number of unanswered questions: Why don’t French cops have easy access to cars or motorcycles when pursuing fugitives, and how does a tree-cutter breach security at the heavily guarded Davos World Economic Forum in about three seconds?
Strong playing by brooding action star Cornillac keeps the punches flying, and Croze is highly credible as the annoying anti-pharma crusader.
Excellent tech package, led by d.p. Dominique Bouilleret and f/x veteran Georges Demetrau (“The Empire of Wolves”), features several strong car chases reminiscent of the breathtaking pileups in “Ronin.” Realistic production design by Pierre Queffelean and soft sound mixing are further pluses.