Superchondriac Film Review

Dany Boon's hypochondria farce diagnosed with alarmingly low laugh levels.

The French love Dany Boon, though the condition hasn’t exactly been contagious. While the comic’s most successful venture, “Welcome to the Sticks,” spawned imitators in nearly every European market, the Gallic multi-talent hasn’t been the ingredient to catch on. His latest, “Superchondriac,” should pass quietly enough, except in France, where B.O. will prove nothing if not healthy. Boon plays a hyper-sensitive germophobe who disrupts everyone around him with his imaginary ailments — a low-concept setup that scarcely gives this laffer anywhere to go, relying on the actor’s charm and a series of goofy contrivances to limp its way home.

Romain Faubert (Boon) has the worst possible job for someone obsessed with everything that could possibly go wrong with his body: He takes photographs for an online medical dictionary, then spends his free time fretting about diseases most people don’t even know exist. We meet Romain en route to the hospital, riding in the back of an ambulance for what turns out to be … nothing.

Even Romain’s personal doctor, the well-assimilated Dimitri Zvenka (Kad Merad), has effectively given up on entertaining this perfectly healthy fellow’s false alarms. Instead of banning Romain from his office, however, the physician invites his favorite patient to sleep over — the first in an increasingly implausible series of decisions that eventually lead the mild-mannered Romain to being mistaken for one Anton Miroslav (Jean-Yves Berteloot), revolutionary leader of a country called “Cherkistan.”

Boon has vastly overestimated the humor potential of his meager subject, and though the subject of hypochondria supports a few funny scenes — most notably a subjective, high-stress ride on the Paris metro — it in no way points to the silliness that follows. Misdiagnosing a painfully unfunny New Year’s freakout (in which Romain faints at the prospect of kissing germ-infested strangers at the stroke of midnight), Zvenka prescribes a most unorthodox cure: Romain should kiss everybody and make them want to kiss him.

What follows is a truly peculiar romantic comedy in which a medical professional attempts to play matchmaker for one of his patients, refusing to accept when the sicko falls for the one woman he considers off-limits: Zvenka’s sister Anna (Alice Pol, reuniting with Boon after “Fly Me to the Moon”). Anna, meanwhile, is embroiled in an even more ridiculous subplot about sheltering Cherkistanis, which calls for the invention of a made-up language — fittingly enough, since silly accents and borderline-tacky cultural caricatures comprise Boon’s most successful shtick with local auds (see such subtitle-resistant pics as “Welcome to the Sticks” and “Nothing to Declare”).

Seeking a spark between these two is like lighting matches in a rainstorm, and it’s embarrassing to watch Pol fall for what she thinks is a macho war hero, while Boon overacts the role of a wimp. Oddly, a happy-ending montage tacked onto the end, flashing forward a few years to fatherhood, suggests a much funnier solution to Romain’s problem: Surely raising a sneezing, pooping, cold-prone baby — maybe even one with a genuine medical condition — would have been a more organic way to rid him of his hypochondria.

Still, even though the sequence of events doesn’t make much sense, as directed by Boon, “Superchondriac” looks and sounds more polished than the average Hollywood laffer, boasting well-balanced widescreen lensing by Romain Winding (“Farewell, My Queen”) and a pro score from Hans Zimmer acolyte Klaus Badelt. Much like super-successful French comedy “The Intouchables,” careful attention has been paid to the technical aspects, making for a classy package, even when the script caters to the lowest common denominator.

Film Review: 'Superchondriac'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (market), Feb. 8, 2014. Running time: 107 MIN.

Production

(France-Belgium) A Pathe (in France) release of a Pathe, Les Productions du Ch'timi, TF1 Films Prod., Artemis Prods., in association with BNP Paribas Fortis Film Fund, Tax Shelter Films Fund, Casa Kafka Pictures, Tax Shelter Film Funding, with the particiaption of La Wallonie, Canal Plus, Cine Plus, TF1. (International sales: Pathe, Paris.) Produced by Eric Hubert, Jerome Seydoux. Co-producer, Patrick Quinet. (Original title: "Supercondriaque") 

Crew

Directed, written by Dany Boon. Camera (color), Romain Winding; editor, Monica Coleman; music, Klaus Badelt; production designer, Alain Veissier; costume designer, Laetitia Bouix; sound, Lucien Balibar, Vincent Guillon, Thomas Gauder; stunt coordinator, Jean-Claude Lagniez; associate producer, Romain Le Grand; casting, Pierre-Jacques Benichou.

With

Dany Boon, Kad Merad, Alice Pol, Jean-Yves Berteloot, Judith El Zein, Valerie Bonneton, Bruno Lochet, Jerome Commandeur, Marthe Villalonga. (French, "Cherkistani" dialogue)

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