A comedy of extramarital manners in several unconnected chapters, “The Players” is an odd beast that, like all omnibus films, is only as strong as its weakest link. Recent Oscar winner Jean Dujardin and Gallic colleague Gilles Lellouche star in and co-wrote the pic’s six shorts and also handled helming duties on the gaudy, unimaginative Las Vegas-set closing seg. Remaining episodes are helmed by different directors, including “The Artist’s” Michel Hazanavicius, who successfully taps into a more reserved register of Dujardin’s talent. Local release has been doing boffo biz, though elsewhere, marketing this amoral hodgepodge might prove more problematic.
Briefly in the news because of its suggestive French posters, “The Players” is, for lack of a better word, a balls-out look at infidelity that sticks closely and unapologetically to the male (feminists might add the qualifier “chauvinist pig”) point of view.
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In a broad-brushstrokes prologue helmed by Fred Cavaye (who directed Lellouche in “Point Blank”), two philandering husbands (Dujardin, Lellouche) paint the town red together, to the point of maintaining eye contact and conversation while banging different chicks in a hotel room. Though some visual jokes work, the verbal banter and character and narrative development are subpar, as they are in closer “Las Vegas,” in which the frequently naked leads make another appearance on their way to a plot twist foretold.
Strongest seg is Hazanavicius’ knowing and wry “La bonne conscience,” which casts Dujardin as Laurent, a sad-sack businessman looking for some action at all costs during a corporate event at a dreary convention center. Both this short and the more straightforward “Lolita” — directed by Eric Lartigau (“The Big Picture”) and starring Lellouche as a boring dentist trying to hold on to his student-aged g.f. (Clara Ponsot) — reserve supporting roles for the other half of the duo, but to little benefit. The force of these two episodes comes from their subtler acting and more observant screenplays, which suggest that adultery is a compulsion that can put a man in a serious fix.
Dujardin and his real-life partner, actress Alexandra Lamy, play a couple in the well-acted “La Question,” helmed by Emmanuelle Bercot, as they did in the early-career TV sketches that clearly inspired the omnibus’ format. The actors’ verbose showdown over accusations of cheating reps the only moment in “The Players” in which a woman has a serious voice, though Sandrine Kiberlain’s deliciously frigid turn in “Les Infideles anonymes,” from musicvid helmer Alexandre Courtes, deserves mention as a caricature that works in the context of the short’s purely comedic aspirations.
Frequently hilarious, “Anonymes” imagines a 12-step program for serially unfaithful husbands, run by Kiberlain; besides Lellouche and Dujardin, there’s also room for Guillaume Canet, as a chichi cheater with a dog problem, and Manu Payet, who accidentally kills his much older lover, who was into extreme bondage (these misadventures are actually shown as short teasers between the other episodes). Comedic timing and acting are spot-on here.
All technical posts were manned by the same crew except for the editing, with production design, costumes and lensing all stronger in the more restrained segments. Shorts’ titles appear only in the closing credits.