Review: ‘Houba! On the Trail of the Marsupilami’

Marketed as kid-friendly, the overstuffed pic has become 2012's biggest local hit, with its B.O. take closing in on $45 million.

A furry, CGI-rendered jungle creature with a 24-foot tail fronts the lightweight Gallic live-action film “Houba! On the Trail of the Marsupilami.” Adapting another famous Francophone comicbook after “Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra,” French actor-director Alain Chabat finds himself in familiar territory as he again tries to balance juvenile adventure, narrative dead ends and wink-wink material aimed at adults. Marketed as kid-friendly, the overstuffed pic has become 2012’s biggest local hit, with its B.O. take closing in on $45 million.

Popular comic Jamel Debbouze plays a jungle guide in the fictitious South American country of Palombia, where he shows around a bumbling TV reporter (Chabat). The journo is hoping to spot a marsupilami (a monotreme, not a marsupial — and even then, the geography seems wonky), which survives on rare orchids with rejuvenating powers that have piqued the interest of some laughably evil men. Less entertaining than simply inoffensive — its depiction of South America is more cliched than downright racist — the Mexico-shot, big-budget production is plushly appointed and acted so broadly, even patrons in the theater next door will get the jokes. Appearance and use of Celine Dion boggle the mind.

Houba! On the Trail of the Marsupilami

France-Belgium

Production

A Pathe (in France) release of a Chez Wam, Pathe, TF1 Films Prod., Scope Pictures production, in association with TF1, Canal Plus, Cine Plus. (International sales: Pathe Intl., Paris.) Produced by Alain Chabat, Christine Rouxel. Executive producer, Genevieve Lemal. Directed by Alain Chabat. Screenplay, Chabat, Jeremy Doner, based on the comicbooks by Andre Franquin.

Crew

Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Laurent Dailland; editor, Maryline Monthieux; music, Bruno Coulais; production designer, Olivier Raoux; costume designer, Olivier Beriot. Reviewed at Utopolis, Luxembourg, May 4, 2012. (In Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 108 MIN.

With

Jamel Debbouze, Alain Chabat, Fred Testot, Lambert Wilson, Geraldine Nakache, Liya Kebede, Patrick Timsit, Aissa Maiga, Jacques Weber, Celine Dion. (French, Spanish dialogue)

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