There’s at least one cliche for every gunshot fired in “22 Bullets,” a tremendously overcooked mafioso thriller from thesp-cum-helmer Richard Berry (“The Black Box”). Starring Jean Reno as a vengeful godfather who single-handedly takes out half the city of Marseilles (while barely breaking into a jog), this frenzied, often senseless crime saga fails to sustain interest in its cast of cops, crooks and weeping widows, with action sequences that are poorly staged fits of ultraviolence. Following a 500-plus-screen rollout in Gaul, EuropaCorp’s €22 million ($30 million) investment should miss its B.O. target. Flesh wounds are likely on homevid and VOD.
Although it’s based on Franz-Olivier Giesbert’s 2007 novel “The Immortal” (also the French title), the script in fact plays like a mash-up of every modern mobster movie from “The Godfather” to “A Prophet,” but lacks the drama and street cred of such gems. If anything, the Mafia seems to serve as an excuse for abundant displays of blood and gore, while attempts at emotional hooks — mostly via Klaus Badelt’s generic music — prove ineffective.
Seasoned gangster Charly Mattei (Reno) drives his young son (Max Baissette De Malglaive) along the Cote d’Azur while blasting “Tosca” (natch), then walks into a parking-garage ambush. Although he’s shot 22 times at point-blank range, Charly survives. And after his favorite henchman is literally hacked to pieces and fed to the dogs, he decides it’s time for payback.
Having suffered nerve damage to his right hand, he uses his left one to shoot down one enemy after another, sometimes in broad daylight. That he does so without any major resistance from his rivals — led by the preposterous Tony Zacchia (Kad Merad of “Welcome to the Sticks,” straining for credibility), who dresses in black, wears sunglasses indoors and speaks with a false stutter — is one of many plot points left unchecked by Berry and his three co-scribes.
With several scenes of a purely gruesome nature (head-kicking seems to be a favorite), a recurring voiceover from Charly that lends zero depth to his character (“Spilt blood never dries,” etc.), and car chases that are so sliced-and-diced they’re devoid of any continuity, there’s little left to salvage by the time all the bodies are counted.
While Reno’s depiction of Charly is often wooden and far too immobile for the various stunts required, the drug-dealing heavies he targets tend to overact (and overdress) before quickly expiring. As Charly’s longstanding lawyer and now his brother-in-law (don’t ask), Jean-Pierre Darroussin gives his character something extra, while the talented Marina Fois can go only so far with Marie, a cartoonish female cop out to avenge her dead husband.
What’s missing from the story and action is only partly redeemed by some breathtaking location shooting in and around Marseilles. Though he often digs too deep into the filter box, d.p. Thomas Hardmeier (“Partners”) provides some needed visual escape from a movie whose most vicious assault is on the viewer’s intelligence.