An oddball caper comedy in which six bumbling French crooks in Chicago end up with the Mafia, the FBI and a Latino gang on their tails, “Wanted” (aka “Crime Spree”) is a deadpan guilty pleasure. Marbled with adequate to guffaw-inducing gags and set pieces, this gangster send-up assembles a dream cast ranging from laconic Gallic icons Johnny Hallyday, Renaud and Gerard Depardieu to Yank vets Harvey Keitel and Abe Vigoda. French-speaking territories especially will warm to the laid-back antics, and fest programmers are hereby alerted.
Pic is the first directorial outing by writer Brad Mirman, whose previous scripts include “Body of Evidence” and a host of Christopher Lambert vehicles, including “Knight Moves,” “Highlander III” and “Resurrection.” Hybrid silliness here is shamelessly entertaining in the off-handed manner of movies one stumbles across on TV, only to stay hooked with pleasure.
When Daniel (Depardieu), Julien (Stephane Freiss) and Raymond (Albert Dray) bungle the theft of a painting in Paris, crime boss Laurent Bastaldi (Richard Bohringer) sends them to Chicago to burgle the jewelry-filled safe of a wealthy couple. The trio is joined by consumate tough guy Marcel (singer Hallyday), even cooler hitman Zero (renegade folkie Renaud, in his first movie since Claude Berri’s “Germinal,” 1993) and resourceful Algerian petty criminal Sami (Said Taghmaoui), who once lived in Chicago. Sami doesn’t speak French, so the group switches to English for bulk of pic.
In Chicago, instant run-ins with tougher-than-thou local denizens establish that the French contingent can hold its own in any dicey situation. However, when the burglary is in full swing, the Gauls realize they’ve got the wrong house. They’ve mistakenly robbed the house of the Chicago mob’s second-in-command, Frankie Zammeti (Keitel).
Although the FBI has had Frankie staked out for months, the French guys manage to exit with the cash from the safe, as well as ultra-compromising audio cassettes in which Frankie is heard conspiring to depose his immediate superior, Giancarlo (Vigoda). If that isn’t enough, the car Raymond stole for the heist belongs to a relentless Latino gang leader. With everyone on their tail, our heroes become painted into an exceedingly tight corner — until they wield some surprise brushes to paint their way out again.
Despite the film’s deft melding of Toronto locations with inserts of the real place, the “Chicago” in which characters circulate is a lot like the Paris of countless Hollywood pics — a state of mind rather than a real place. However, the proudly middle-aged-and-older principal cast sustains its own peculiar vibe: These guys are so self-assured they don’t realize how much they stick out. Renaud carves a memorable niche as the trigger artist who speaks of himself in the third person.
Music is integrated with care, and the fun continues in outtakes during the closing credits.