Review: ‘The Very Very Big Company’

Simpatico French thriller "The Very Very Big Company" may not be a very very original movie, but its free-spirited tone make it pleasant enough to watch.

Simpatico French thriller “The Very Very Big Company” may not be a very very original movie, but its punchy narrative and free-spirited tone make it pleasant enough to watch. Writer-director Pierre Jolivet’s social-minded yarn about four Erin Brockoviches who take on a big, bad corporate wolf is a throwback to comic capers like the original “The Italian Job” or Mario Monicelli’s “Big Deal on Madonna Street,” with a jazzy score, smooth ensemble perfs and enough MacGuffins to fill a Rolodex. Local release yielded acceptable results, with likely ancillary dividends and limited possibilities for overseas expansion.

When agro-chemical multinational Naterris loses a class-action suit for polluting a lake in provincial France, it settles for a measly €12,000 ($15,000) per plaintiff and the promise that its legal headaches will cease.

But four of its victims — suave oyster farmer Zak (Roschdy Zem), unhappily married accountant Melanie (Marie Gillian), disgruntled restaurateur Denis (Jean-Paul Rouve) and charismatic young worker Kevin (Adrien Jolivet) — feel as if they’ve been shafted. They decide to infiltrate the company’s Paris headquarters to dig up dirt for an appeal.

Poorly trained in the art of corporate espionage, they launch a far-fetched plan that has them taking low-wage jobs (security guard, cook, cleaning lady) in the monolithic steel-and-glass HQ, with the hope of snooping on the side. This leads to unexpected run-ins with a frigid in-house lawyer (Guilaine Londez), anal-retentive financial director (Scali Delpeyrat), devious security chief (Wilfried Romoli) and several other nasty members of the all-powerful conglomerate.

Scenario by Jolivet and usual co-writer Simon Michael is strongest — primarily in the second act — when it depicts the protags’ stilted and often funny attempts to steal classified info (including what may be the cinema’s first gag involving sex and a USB key). But as a social saga, it never manages to go beyond the usual us-vs.-them mentality that portrays businesspeople as ruthless bores and everyone else as sympathetic underdogs.

As in his recent features “Zim and Co.” and “Could This Be Love?,” Jolivet’s direction is more by-the-book than standout, but sufficient enough to capture solid performances by all the leads. Zem is particularly watchable, and gives the pic its laid-back comic feel by refusing to smile even when he’s being funny.

Both d.p. Pascal Ridao (“Female Agents”) and production designer Denis Renault provide an adequate visual backdrop, though the sets are a tad too bland and the color scheme too muted. Sax-filled soundtrack by Manu Katche, echoing Lalo Schifrin’s “Bullitt” and “Dirty Harry” scores, helps ease the more sluggish moments.

The Very Very Big Company

France

Production

A Pathe release of a Produire a Paris, Pathe, France 2 Cinema production, with participation of Canal Plus, TPS Star. (International sales: Pathe Intl., Paris.) Produced by Charles Gassot. Executive producer, Jacques Hinstin. Directed by Pierre Jolivet. Screenplay, Jolivet, Simon Michael.

Crew

Camera (color), Pascal Ridao; editor, Yves Deschamps; music, Manu Katche; production designer, Denis Renault; costume designer, Jacqueline Bouchard; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Pierre Excoffier, Vincent Montrobert, William Flageollet; assistant director, Laure Prevost; casting, Brigitte Moidon. Reviewed at UGC Cine Cite Les Halles 2, Paris, Nov. 6, 2008. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Roschdy Zem, Marie Gillain, Jean-Paul Rouve, Adrien Jolivet, Arlette Thomas, Nicolas Marie, Guilaine Londez, Wilfried Romoli, Anne Loiret, Scali Delpeyrat.
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