With a barrage of colorful f/x, flamboyant performances and outlandish sets, Gallic oater is about as close to a traditional Western as Paris is to Dodge City.
With a barrage of colorful f/x, flamboyant performances and outlandish sets, Gallic oater “Lucky Luke” is about as close to a traditional Western as Paris is to Dodge City. Still, helmer James Huth’s campy adaptation of the legendary Belgian comics occasionally captivates with its nonstop wisecracking and visual gimmickry, somewhere between a WB cartoon and the baroque wild west of Sergio Leone. Abetted by “OSS 117” star Jean Dujardin’s amusingly literal turn as “the man who’s quicker than his own shadow,” the pic should earn quick but moderate gold in Francophone territories before galloping toward a safe horizon of ancillary returns.
The “Lucky Luke” series was created in the late ’40s by Belgian cartoonist Morris, and achieved widespread popularity in Europe throughout the ’50s, reaching its summit in the ’60s and ’70s when Morris joined forces with “Asterix” creator Rene Goscinny. (Pic is “in homage” to both of them.) Despite the comic’s longstanding success, two previous screen versions — an English-language version in 1991 by actor Terence Hill, and a spoofy 2004 French spinoff of “The Daltons” — had little luck at the box office or with fanboys.
Assuring a steady continuity from panel to screen, writer-director Huth offers an extremely faithful adaptation of Morris’ imagery, down to the very cut of Lucky’s jeans, the jokes of his talking horse, Jolly Jumper (voiced by Bruno Salomone), and appearances by friends/foes Billy the Kid (Michael Youn) and Calamity Jane (Sylvie Testud).
But there’s so much stuff happening at once in this ADD-style Western that the story (co-written with Dujardin and producer Sonja Shillito) seems like an afterthought behind a bombardment of visual effects, while the characters are all purposely cartoonish and rarely involving.
It’s 1846 when young Lucky (Mathias Sandor) witnesses his parents’ massacre at the hands of unknown bandits. Pic then flashes ahead to the point when Lucky (Dujardin) returns to Daisy Town to take on a host of outlaws, headed by trickster Pat Poker (Daniel Prevost). Forced to break his vow never to kill another person, Lucky soon retires to his homestead with childhood squeeze Belle (Alexandra Lamy), until Billy, Jane and a Shakespeare-quoting Jesse James (Melvil Poupaud) bring him out of retirement for another hour of gunslinging goofiness.
Though the intrigue feels nearly nonexistent, Huth and Dujardin (who previously collaborated on surfer comedy “Brice From Nice”) keep things coasting along by piling on the gags. These rely on wacky sets by Pierre Queffelean (“The New Protocol”) and an understated performance by Dujardin that contrasts with his overstated hair and costumes.
Excess culminates in a 20-minute finale set inside a gigantic, Terry Gilliam-esque contraption that’s a fun piece of production design. But it also stresses how far the film has traveled from the more classic elements of the genre, or from the original “Luke” series.
Huth’s American West (lensed mostly in Argentina) is closer to that of Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Wild Wild West” or “Shanghai Noon.” Respects are also paid to Sergio Leone in extreme closeups by d.p. Stephane Le Parc and stylized editing by Antoine Vareille and Frederique Olszak.
The kitschy soundtrack by Bruno Coulais (“Coraline”) and a host of sketch comedy-style supports add to the pic’s over-the-top tone, proving that Huth has a certain talent for high-priced craftsmanship but can’t make something as enjoyable and enduring as a comicbook.