The Wackos

A genre cocktail perpetrated with deadpan panache, "The Wackos" is an adroitly stirred blend of "King of Hearts" meets "Gunfight at the Not-Remotely-O.K.-Corral." Smartly played venture, which has "cult oddity" written all over it, struggled for more than a year to land a release slot in Gaul, finally opening on two Paris screens July 31.

A genre cocktail perpetrated with deadpan panache, “The Wackos” is an adroitly stirred blend of “King of Hearts” meets “Gunfight at the Not-Remotely-O.K.-Corral.” Smartly played venture, which has “cult oddity” written all over it, struggled for more than a year to land a release slot in Gaul, finally opening on two Paris screens July 31. Thanks to word-of-mouth, pic was still playing mid-September after flashier fare had come and gone.

En route to a drug bust at a costume party, four French undercover cops in Confederate army garb take a major detour after the credit card of their leader, Debe (Christophe Laubion), is eaten by an ATM due to a paltry $100 overdraft. Treated rudely by bank staff, Debe channels his anger into an impromptu hold-up that leaves several dead.

Stuffed into what is now their getaway car, Debe’s colleagues — including a female ball-buster nicknamed “Cyborg” (Ingrid Chauvin) — are less than enthused about being involuntary accomplices. But the informer who came with them has been shot in the gut, so the bickering cops pull up at a remote hospital — which turns out to be a loony bin.

When the lone nurse notifies a SWAT team, the perps lock themselves in with their loot, lots of ammo and 50 literally crazy hostages who will require medication very soon. There’s rarely a dull moment in the stand-off between armed law-enforcement professionals — those inside the facility and the stymied SWAT crew surrounding it — as bizarre, almost tender, interludes are enacted between bouts of carnage and craziness.

One frighteningly convincing inmate is a self-mutilating expert in ferocious hand-to-hand combat who (quite seriously) demands a wading pool complete with rubber duckies. Oh, and there also appears to be a rogue axe murderer on the rampage within the hospital.

The careening fun shifts gears over and over as the unknown ensemble cast invests its fairly outrageous roles with a patina of plausibility. Pic is an ode to anarchy, with a punk sensibility assigned to grown-ups. Its moral is either “Think twice before you’re rude to customers” or “Shoot everything in sight and go for broke.” Either way, the rough-hewn indie experiment has chutzpah to burn.

The Wackos

France-Romania-Belgium

Production: An Artedis release (in France) of an Alizes Films, Telefrance, M6 Films (France)/Atlantis Film (Romania)/Cinevision (Belgium) production. Produced by Denis Karvil, Pierre Roitfeld. Executive producers, Ion Marinescu, Lucian Dante Gologan. Directed by Gerard Cuq. Screenplay, Michel Cuq, Gerard Cuq.

Crew: Camera (color), Ion Marinescu; editor, Diane Logan; music, Etienne Perruchon; art director, Daniel Raduta; sound (Dolby), Dominique Davy, Claude Gazeau. Reviewed at Accatone, Paris, Sept. 17, 2002. Running time: 109 MIN. With: Ingrid Chauvin, Christophe Laubion, Tomi Cristin, Denis Karvil, Eric Metayer, Bernard Farcy, Sonia Nadeau, Catalina Mustata, Alain Figlarz.

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