Despite the chronic inconvenience of conking out without warning, a narcoleptic nice-guy pursues his dreams in the silly but satisfying “Narco.” Those who worry French cinema isn’t renewing itself can breathe easier: First feature by Tristan Aurouet and Gilles Lellouche is a sardonic repository of off-kilter humor, jubilant production design and underdog-centered whimsy whose craft matches its originality. Flat-out entertaining, with a juicy pop-culture subtext, pic is a fine example of talented people absorbing Hollywood influences and retooling them in their own, proudly European image.
Thirtysomething Gustave Klopp (Guillaume Canet), known as Gus, can’t hold down a job because of his narcolepsy. At best, drive-through customers don’t get their pizzas; at worst, individuals on a carnival thrill-ride are doomed to endless rotations while Gus sleeps, oblivious to their screams.
In his sleep, Gus becomes Klopp — a hero as brave as Rambo, as suave as James Bond, as cool as Han Solo. The transitions from Gus’ mundane reality to his glorious secret life are handled with smooth ingenuity.
Succinct, funny flashbacks illustrate Gus’ upbringing by his dad (Jean-Pierre Cassel), a would-be hipster devoted to Frank Sinatra and substandard American movies and TV series. As an adolescent and young adult, any hint of strong emotion resulted in him crumpling to the ground — a major bummer when it came to dating. Even so, Gus manages to marry Pamela (Zabou Breitman), a former cheerleader who runs a nail salon.
Gus’ best friend, judo instructor Lenny Barr (Benoit Poelvoorde), group therapy leader Samuel Pupkin (Guillaume Gallienne) and publishing magnate Guy Bennet (Francois Berleand) play unforeseen roles in Gus’ increasingly strange destiny. Aforementioned thesps outdo themselves, humanizing their oddly affecting characters.
Film follows the contours of several genres without tipping into predictability. And the narrative rises above the merely amusing by exploring the mystery of artistic inspiration, dreams both literal and figurative, and the wages of appropriating or subverting the talents of others.
Co-helmers/writers Aurouet and Lellouche (latter cameoing as an ice-skating hitman) are vets of commercials and rock videos, and the elaborate tale is told with rock-solid visual assurance. It’s easy to follow, despite surprising narrative forks.
Although pic’s humor isn’t universal, its cast of eccentric nobodies with big dreams has classic appeal. Pic is accentuated by a spot-on mix of small French lives and outsized Hollywood spectacle, the latter delivered via terrific effects work. Musical punctuation is tops.