Take Indiana Jones and replace him with a knockout redhead, a slew of CGI and a somewhat bloated storyline, and you’ll get an inkling of what lies behind Luc Besson’s costumer/creature feature, “The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec.” More convincing than the helmer-producer’s recent efforts but not exactly the enjoyable f/x extravaganza it should be, this polished comicbook adaptation is most notable for newcomer Louise Bourgoin’s captivating perf as a fearless, wisecracking heroine who — this being France — drinks, smokes and plays in the buff. Massive local rollout delivered a strong opening, and should venture beyond Francophone markets.
Though it’s better conceived and executed than the tyke-targeted “Arthur” series, pic still suffers from the kind of directorial tics and narrative pitfalls that often make Besson’s blockbusters highly uneven affairs — commercial movies that have all the required elements, but never quite nail down the formula. As both scribe and helmer, as well as his own producer via Gallic powerhouse EuropaCorp, he exerts perhaps too much control over works that would benefit from some fresh collaborative voices and, in this case, a pair of scissors to trim down an overstretched third act.
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Budgeted at 30 million ($40.8 million) — compared with the latest “Arthur’s” whopping (for France) $88.4 million — “Adele” does manage to spend its money wisely. With handsome production values, polished visual effects and eye-popping locations (shot by Besson regular Thierry Arbogast) that include icons like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, pic smoothly blends state-of-the-art CGI with a story set in pre-WWI France.
After a rapid-fire opening sequence that, without a handy voiceover, would be practically impossible to follow, we’re soon introduced to the audacious explorer-novelist Adele Blanc-Sec (Bourgoin), who’s on a mission in Egypt. Quick-witted and stubborn, but also incredibly seductive, she manages to squeeze her way out of a tangle involving a band of cartoonish locals led by her nemesis, the archeologist Dieuleveult (Mathieu Amalric, practically unrecognizable with pasty makeup and buck teeth).
Back home with a sarcophagus in tow, Adele is confronted with yet another dilemma: A scientist (Jacky Nercessian) who has the power to heal her comatose sister (Laure de Clermont-Tonnere) has managed to unleash a pterodactyl into the skies above Paris. As a worthless detective (Gilles Lellouche, amusing) and a trigger-happy hunter (Jean-Paul Rouve) try to shoot the beast down, Adele summons the best of her charms and skills to prevent the baddies from thwarting her master plan.
If this sounds awfully childish, well, it is often is, and what frankly saves pic from its convoluted plot and boilerplate villains is Adele herself, thanks in no small part to the all-consuming performance of Bourgoin (who made a noteworthy debut in Anne Fontaine’s 2006 “The Girl from Monaco”). Delivering lines with screwball timing, while sporting an assortment of disguises like a sexed-up Lon Chaney, she dominates practically every scene and makes us regret the ones without her.
Supporting cast serves up the type of characters depicted better in the original comicbook series (created in 1976 by Jacques Tardi and still running), and the onslaught of digital creatures at the film’s close is too overcooked to be enjoyable. The same goes for a closing scene that all too sloppily sets up a sequel, leaving one with the impression that Besson is already worrying about the next film before trying to get this one right.