Thousands of crime movies have made it clear: When things go bad, self-respecting criminals keep their mouths shut. Elegant yet empty, “Paris Countdown” illustrates the consequences of violating that rule when two French guys roped into a major Mexican drug deal give up their boss under extreme interrogation. (And who can blame them, when heavy beatings and a power drill are involved?) Six years later, their life becomes an imitation Nicolas Winding Refn thriller, all steaming streets and neon-lit atmosphere, as the two rats scurry around Paris to avoid a reckoning too unexceptional to draw many to a Nov. 8 Stateside release.
Even in its native France, this been-there-done-that story marks a pretty banal debut for writer-director Alain Marie, who seems far more interested in aping Refn and early-career Michael Mann than in finding his own style. Apart from a few nonlinear leaps up front — a flashy way of establishing how Paris club promoters Victor (Jacques Gamblin) and Milan (cop-turned-actor Olivier Marchal) got roped into a doomed drug deal — and a peculiar end-credits double play from both characters’ points of view, there’s not much to distinguish the exercise.
Let’s just say, they didn’t handle pressure so well the first time around, so why should they start now? Having violated the code of silence upfront (a ritual that, if maintained, would have been sufficient to fuel a Jean-Pierre Melville movie), Victor and Milan are left without much recourse other than to survive. Their desperate chase takes them from a nightclub along the Seine to an anti-climactic showdown in the tree-lined suburbs, with stops at the airport, the park and a high-end sex club for added scenery. This isn’t exactly a tourist’s view of the city, though the glamour helps to compensate for the shortcomings of its only semi-interesting middle-aged protags.
Far more intriguing are the underworld characters who want them dead, especially Serki (Carlo Brandt), a surly James Caan type who’s motivated enough that we almost want to see him succeed. While Victor and Milan manage to avoid the sadistic Serki for most of the movie, he keeps catching up with their friends and family along the way, and though Marie is too classy to show how he treats these collateral characters, his wrath doesn’t leave all that much to the imagination.
Clearly, it’s too late for apologies, though there’s still a chance for Milan to make things up to Victor — who fared considerably worse in the hands of the Mexican authorities, taking the drill tip directly to his eardrums. What a shame for him not to appreciate the pic’s pulsating techno score, which along with self-consciously sleek camera moves (a signature of “Loft” d.p. Danny Elsen, beefing his reel at every opportunity), constitutes the majority of the pic’s personality.