There are plenty of films that take a decent pitch and then ruin it, but comic caper “Imogene” does pretty much the opposite. Based on a premise that many viewers may reject from the get-go, this ’60s-set, Gallic-meets-Gaelic yarn features French actors pretending they’re Scottish, with a titular heroine (played with verve by Catherine Frot) who has no audible brogue but drinks rye for breakfast and digs guys in kilts. Well executed, conceptually ponderous debut from “Welcome to the Sticks” scribes Alexandre Charlot and Franck Magnier will blow its bagpipes in Francophone outlets following a wee local release.
After the recent Moscow-set period piece “An Ordinary Execution,” which had vet Andre Dussollier playing a dying and demented Joseph Stalin, “Imogene” reps another curious attempt to tell a non-French story with a French-speaking cast dressed as and acting like foreigners. In each case, the combination feels extremely retrograde for a contempo movie (a sentiment reflected by the poor B.O. performance of both pics), while “Imogene” also denies us one of the more enjoyable things about any story taking place in Scotland: the accent.
Beyond the fatal culture clash, there are a few fun moments in this smoothly crafted but forgettable tale of secretary-cum-spy Imogene McCathery (Frot), who’s sent by the tea-and-crumpet-loving Sir Woolish (Michel Aumont) to deliver top-secret blueprints to her picturesque hometown of Falkland. Naturally, said plans are thwarted by a coterie of Russian agents (Pierre Laplace, Francis Leplay, Nicolas Vaude) who pose as plaid-loving locals, and Imogene soon finds help in former squeeze and fellow rugby aficionado Samuel Tyler (Lambert Wilson).
Clearly, Charlot and Magnier — who adapted the script from one of several “Imogene” novels in a series created in the late ’50s — are having more laughs with all the shepherding and whisky-slurping than we are, providing sharp and efficient storytelling (the film clocks in at 75 minutes without end credits), and pulling off a few Coen brothers-esque setpieces, culminating in a catchy rugby match standoff. Most of the cast, and especially Frot, also seem to be having a guid ol’ time of it as well, and at best, it can be said that nobody seems to be taking any of this very seriously.
Tech work is accomplished all around, with glasses raised to Ambre Sansonetti’s meticulous production design, which provides the kind of local flavor the rest of the movie fails to deliver.