It’s summer in the city, the jokes are dirty and the milieu mildly gritty in the urban, adult-skewed French animation “Round Da Way.” Based on a popular TV series that started in 2000 on Canal Plus and morphed into a comicbook, pic follows the adventures of various ghetto-dwellers on the make in the sexual as well as criminal sense. A fun, polished crowdpleaser that depends a lot on its target aud’s knowledge of street slang, “Round” should assemble a good-sized posse of supporters locally when it opens in mid-June this year, but may not achieve much more than cult status offshore.
Story is set in a rough banlieue (poor suburb, the French equivalent of a ghetto) on the edge of an unnamed big city that sounds, judging by the accents, like Paris. Key characters Tony Pepperoni (voiced by Vincent Cassel) and Joe Hustleton (rapper-comedian and co-writer IZM) hatch plans to earn enough dough for a vacation on the tropical island of Santo Rico.
Tony’s scheme involves retailing five kilos of cannabis lent on credit by ruthless dealer Zoran (Gilles Lellouche), but if he doesn’t come up with the cash in exactly a week, he’s dead meat. Meanwhile, Joe gets a gig building a sauna in the house of wealthy judge Nomercy (Francois Levantal), which also entails minding his employer’s palatial mansion while he’s on vacation — an attractive option, given that Joe has major hots for Nomercy’s daughter Clemence (Diane Kruger).
Pic spins a complex skein of subplots around the core duo, involving, among others, Tony’s love-crazy, controlling g.f. Manuella (Frederique Bel), two sex-starved hood rats (Omar Sy, Fred Testot, aka Omar et Fred) who hide out in a tropic-themed swimming pool for a week when they fail to make it to Santo Rico, the makers of a porn film, and a toy poodle called Tekewinkee.
Although the film has a lot of swearing and gags that often hinge on sex or bodily fluids, there’s little here that would earn the pic anything harder than an R rating. Nor is the humor anywhere near as satirical and scathing as, say, “South Park” at its best (or worse, depending on your point of view). Think instead “Beavis and Butt-head” meets “La Haine.” Collaborating helmers Albert Pereira-Lazaro and Emmanuel Klotz (the latter’s credits include the animated feature “Duck Ugly”) notably demonstrate both visual flair and storytelling skill.
Combining simplified, exaggeratedly stylized 2-D characters with richly textured 3-D backgrounds and effects, the animation is aces throughout. Effective soundtrack contributions from such old-school hip-hop crews as A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and House of Pain add appeal.
For the record, the French title is “Lascars,” denoting a slang word that means something like “niggers,” but with less derogatory connotations. Also, the names in the original version are different from those cited here (which are culled from the pic’s subtitles and press notes): “Tony Pepperoni” is “Tony Merguez” in the pic’s spoken French, while “Joe Hustleton” is “Jose Frelate,” and so on. Theoretically, pic could be redubbed fairly easily for offshore territories, but that wouldn’t necessarily make it much more commercial.