A handsomely crafted mafioso suspenser that reworks "The Godfather" in the bars and on the beaches of France's Cote d'Azur, "Inside Ring" is high on visual thrills and slightly lower on originality.

A handsomely crafted mafioso suspenser that reworks “The Godfather” in the bars and on the beaches of France’s Cote d’Azur, “Inside Ring” is high on visual thrills and slightly lower on originality. Helmer Laurent Tuel’s yarn of a father-son criminal empire thwarted by a dangerous love interest is a showcase of strikingly lensed exteriors and action sequences, with credible but unspectacular performances. Potent sound work and sharp editing also help to maintain interest, despite a predictable plot. French biz will be best in ancillary, while Jean Reno could boost chances of foreign pickups.

Opening newsreel montage recounts the plight of Armenians who emigrated to France after the 1915 genocide: Most settled into lives of menial physical labor, while others opted for an underworld of crime. But beyond this brief explanation, the film fails to give its gangsters an engaging historic or ethnic background. The only things these Armenians — who always speak in French — seem to have in common is their love of flashy cars and all-black attire.

Luckily, the thrills kick in quickly with a beautifully shot car chase that follows the action at low, realistic angles, as bad boy Anton (Gaspard Ulliel) steals another Ferrari for his ruthless daddy, local mob boss Milo (Reno). Beyond car theft, Milo’s family also excels at home burglary, and when a Riviera villa heist results in one charred corpse and lots of missing artwork, detective Saunier (Sami Bouajila, solid and compelling) vows to take down the clan that killed his partner a decade earlier.

Despite his appearance — slick hair, skintight shirts, expensive shoes — Anton actually doesn’t care much for his father’s affairs, and dreams of opening a hotel-cum-horse farm in a nearby village. When he decides to flee the roost with g.f. Elodie (Vahina Giocante), Milo refuses to let them go, and the family conflict happens to coincide with an airport robbery. The extended sequence offers an impressive display of smoke and mirrors, with gripping pyrotechnics captured in eerie widescreen by d.p. Laurent Machuel (“Sex Is Comedy”), enhanced by a range of stark, muted sound effects by Olivier Le Vacon and Cyril Holtz.

Co-writer/director Tuel (“Children’s Play”) reveals a genuine talent for staging action without overloading on CGI or aggressive cutting. But his characters — especially the young couple — could have benefited from some nuance in their dialogue and costumes, as they seem to be literally wearing their bios on their sleeves. That Elodie, despite being the family nurse, knows nothing about Milo’s nefarious activities also strains credulity.

Nice and Nimes location shooting is pure Pastis.

Inside Ring

France-Italy

Production

A TFM Distribution release of an Alter Films, Thelma Films, TF1 Intl., TF1 Films Prod., Medusa Film production, in association with Sofica Valor 7, La Banque Postale Image, with participation of Canal Plus, CNC. (International sales: TF1 Intl., Paris.) Produced by Alain Terzian, Christine Gozlan. Executive Producer, Francois-Xavier Decraene. Directed by Laurent Tuel. Screenplay, Tuel, Simon Moutairou, Laurent Turner.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Laurent Machuel; editor, Marion Monestier; music, Alain Kremski; production designer, Carlos Conti; costume designer, Pascaline Chavanne; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Olivier Le Vacon, Cyril Holtz; visual effects supervisor; Alain Carsoux; assistant director, Jerome Zadjermann; casting, Gerard Moulevrier. Reviewed at UGC Cine Cite Les Halles 13, Paris, Mar. 5, 2009. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Jean Reno, Gaspard Ulliel, Vahina Giocante, Sami Bouajila, Isaac Sharry, Philippe Leroy-Beaulieu.
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