David Charhon’s “On the Other Side of the Tracks” is an efficient Gallic buddy-cop movie that’s so eager to please it’s almost endearing. Like a reconstructed 1980s vehicle that’s neither vintage nor contemporary, pic occupies a strangely entertaining no man’s land as it spins its story of a chic, careerist cop from Paris, forced to collaborate with a colleague from the banlieue projects who plays fast and loose with the rules. The Weinstein Co. already snapped up U.S. rights before “Tracks'” December local bow, which, like the film, was solid if not quite extraordinary.
“Tracks” started shooting on the day whammo B.O. hit “The Intouchables” was released in France, and that film’s star, Omar Sy, essentially plays a variation on that role here: Ousmane is a black plain-clothes cop who perfectly blends in with his gritty Bobigny ‘hood, which lies just beyond the “periph” beltway that separates haughty Paris from the rough suburbs (the beltway gives the film its French title).
Pic opens with an impressively staged car chase on the periph before properly introducing Ousmane and his opponent-cum-partner from the city, the shirt-and-tie-wearing Francois Monge (Laurent Lafitte). The two work together on a murder case that has ties to big business, though the screenplay (by six writers) is more interested in the protags’ opposites-attract chemistry than in the actual nitty-gritty of solving the crime, so long as a high-octane setpiece occasionally punctuates the duo’s banter. In narrative terms, the intrigue is a supporting player.
Charhon’s inspiration clearly comes from Hollywood’s 1980s output, such as “Beverly Hills Cop,” “48 Hrs.,” “Running Scared” and the “Lethal Weapon” series, and “Tracks” does nothing to hide that, with nods aplenty to its forebears. There’s also a shoutout to 1981 local hit “The Professional,” with Jean-Paul Belmondo, who’s “no Eddie Murphy but really not bad,” as Ousmane explains.
Because an ’80s American movie template has been imported into contempo Gaul without much tinkering, the pic occasionally feels a little out of touch with reality. However, Charon does succeed in suggesting that the stretch of asphalt that separates the two mismatched protags allows cliches about both sides to exist. These stereotypes are cleverly undercut here by character touches, such as the fact that careerist Francois is a bit of a playboy in his free time, while conversely, Ousmane, who ignores all the rules at work, turns out to be a rather strict dad.
Lafitte and Sy are both in fine form here, and their chemistry is key to getting auds through a couple of dull patches. The standout craft contribution comes from composer Ludovic Bource, who delivers his first work since “The Artist”; his score swells to orchestral proportions for the action scenes, giving them an appropriate grandeur, while scaling back to lighter, nimbler themes for the dialogue scenes. Stuntwork, special effects and camerawork are all slick.