“Day for Night” on the rocks, Gallic making-of-a-movie comedy “The Ice Rink” skates by on increasingly thin inspiration, finally hitting a wall. A pleasant enough diversion even when it runs out of ideas, pic lacks the greater resonance or satirical punch to make much theatrical headway offshore, though European tube and ancillary prospects should prove bright.
Limiting action — until a misconceived finale — entirely to the titular arena, helmer Jean-Phillippe Toussaint’s (“Monsieur,” “La Sevillane”) scenario casts his frequent thesp collaborator, the doleful-eyed Tom Novembre, as a vet Parisian director shooting rink scenes for his latest, hockey-themed opus. Needless to say, awkward logistics provide opportunity for plenty of pratfalls as crew and cast struggle to perform their duties on the slippery surface.
Left unattended during a lunch break, klieg lights at one point melt the “set;” Lithuanian sports team members flown in as background players prove impatient with cinema production’s inevitable longueurs. Physical injuries beset Novembre, then his d.p. (Dominique Deruddere). Emotional pain is inflicted as well, particularly given the egomania of an imported U.S. action star (Bruce Campbell as “Sylvester”) and coquettishness of the Gallic lead femme (Dolores Chaplin). Not helping matters much either is the rink’s manager, a one-time Olympic skating champ (Jean-Pierre Cassel) who bores everyone with his nostalgic anecdotes. As production skids further and further behind sked, film-within-film’s hostessy producer (Marie-France Pisier) fights panic: Her increasingly unlikely, make-or-break goal is to get pic in the can in time for the Venice Film Festival.
Despite its slapstick tilt, “The Ice Rink” stays low-key, breezy and moderately charming to a point, its affection for the process of filmmaking heartfelt if developed sans notable ingenuity. But things seem to be drifting nowhere in particular well before the abrupt last-lap shift to more farcical terrain, as Novembre, Pisier & Co. rush their just-edited reels to Cinecitta via emergency helicopter ride. Landing smack in the middle of a sword-and-sandal shoot (as if that studio were still stuck in the early ’60s), they meet their deadline by a nose. But this silly coda seems a little desperate, its lame fade-out punch line hardly worth the trouble.
Aiming only to amuse, pic nonetheless could have benefited from stronger situational and character development. Without it, veteran thesps Cassel and Pisier strain bravely to sustain merriment; Campbell and Chaplin offer disappointingly one-note parodies of stellar temperaments. Support cast has its moments, while Novembre’s air of long-suffering, addled dignity provides a sustaining grace note. Tech package is pro, though zestier pacing and a more stylish visual approach wouldn’t have hurt.