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Film Review: ‘Going to Brazil’

"Spring Breakers" meets "The Hangover" as four Frenchwomen party to the point of criminal peril in Rio.

Vanessa Guide, Alison Wheeler, Margot Bancilhon, Philippine Stindel, Chico Diaz, Patrick Mille, Joseph Malerba, Christine Citti, Susana Pires, Ingra Liberato, Brigitte Rouan, Nando Rodrigues, Nivaldo Nascimento, Yuri Holanda. (French, Portuguese dialogue.)

Actor-turned-director Patrick Mille’s “Going to Brazil” basically takes the “Spring Breakers” conceit and adds a dash of “The Hangover,” as four vacant hotties blunder into criminal peril while on vacation. But while “Spring Breakers” without James Franco was a dire prospect, “Going to Brazil” delivers a slicker, livelier, less repetitious dose of trashy fun. If it doesn’t have anything as out-there or memorable as Franco’s performance, it also has nothing in the torture-chamber realm of constantly hearing the voiceover narration of barely legal ditzbags whining, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this!!”

While to an extent “Brazil” channels a familiar genre-pic xenophobia — go abroad and life is suddenly fraught with drugs, guns and gangsters — it’s snarkily pessimistic about the motherland as well. Our 30-ish heroines are hardly innocents: Restaurant cook Chloe (Margot Bancilhon) resentfully leaps from one fast-ditching boyfriend to the next; the indeterminately employed Lily (Philippine Stindel) has world-class anger issues of indeterminate origin. Lily’s older sister Agathe (Alison Wheeler) is a classic well-intentioned wallflower schoolteacher, albeit such a hapless doormat she barely rouses sympathy. They’re a testy bunch, with mixed responses to the surprising news that fellow childhood friend Katia (Vanessa Guide) is not only getting married in Brazil, but has sent them all invitations — and enclosed plane tickets.

The prospect of a free South American holiday soon overcomes some lingering sour grapes over Katia’s departure, as well as her having snagged some rich dreamboat in an exotic land. Upon arrival, the trio find their hostess (who’s heavily pregnant) too busy with wedding preparations to immediately greet them. But their hotel suites are ready, and Katia recommends that night they check out a “private club” in an apartment building where there are sure to be “cute guys.”

Indeed, there are — as well as lots of booze, blow and myriad other miscellaneous forms of excess. Everybody lets their hair way, way down. Ever-ready Chloe lets her drawers down, too, for a handsome playboy (Nando Rodrigues) who’s making a game of scoring with as many women as he can in a single night. When, on a balcony, he presses his attentions on Lily, her hostile response leads to a catastrophic accident. Since no one else witnessed the mishap (and his fallen corpse isn’t discovered for hours), our heroines nervously scram, figuring out they’re better off fleeing than dealing, as cash-strapped foreigners, with a possibly corrupt local police force.

It’s only after their arrival at the country manse of Katia’s prospective father-in-law that they realize who they’ve inadvertently killed — at his own bachelor party. Worse, Augusto Cabral Sr. (veteran Brazilian star Chico Diaz) is a very well connected; he’s a powerful businessman and aspiring politician with few scruples and a lot of hired goons on his staff. Once he learns his son is not merely missing but dead, he leaves no stone unturned, and no guest from the previous night’s party unterrorized, to find out who was responsible. When the trio’s secret is finally out, they must escape in a hurry, taking along Katia, who figures she too will be disposable after she’s given birth to an heir.

While there’s potentially bad-taste material aplenty here, Mille (who plays a giddy French embassy employee) doesn’t let things get too crass or dark. Certainly the threat of violence is real, but our heroines are just shallow enough to enjoy every non-life-threatening moment they can; even while dashing ever deeper into the countryside, assassins in hot pursuit, they still mostly act like they’re on vacation. In an amusing late twist, after they’re reported as escaped murderers, they post a YouTube video pleading their case, which briefly turns them into folk heroes among the poor.

If the denouement is more low-key than this kind of caper would get in a Hollywood film, it nonetheless preserves the good will we’ve by then extended to protagonists who’ve grown likable precisely because their attention spans are too short to let mortal peril get them down for long.

Director/co-writer Mille’s second feature behind the camera (following 2012’s more serious “Mauvais Fille”) is an intellectually untaxing guilty pleasure that’s skillfully enough made to stir up little guilt. The French-Brazilian co-production boasts no spectacular action set pieces — though it’s ripe for remakes with that inclination — but it provides lively and colorful diversion, with nice production values all around. The performances are game, and the soundtrack is busy in an entertaining rather than overbearing way.

Film Review: 'Going to Brazil'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, July 28, 2017. (In Fantasia, SXSW, Seattle film festivals.) Running time: 95 MIN.

Production: (France-Brazil) A Chapter 2, Moonshaker II and Be Bossa Nova production in co-production with France 3 Cinema, Vamonos, Nexus Factory and Umedia, in association with UFund and Sofitcine 3. (International sales: WTFilms, Paris.) Producers: Dimitri Rassam, Benjamin Elalouf. Co-producers: Paula Cosenza, Denise Tibirica Machado, Eduardo Tibirica Machado, Sylvain Golberg, Serge de Poucques, Gilles Waterkeyn, Nadia Khamlichi.

Crew: Director: Patrick Mille. Screenplay: Mille, Julien Lambroschini, Sabrina Amara, from an idea by Mille. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Andre Szankowski. Editor: Samuel Danesi. Music: Florent Marchet.

With: Vanessa Guide, Alison Wheeler, Margot Bancilhon, Philippine Stindel, Chico Diaz, Patrick Mille, Joseph Malerba, Christine Citti, Susana Pires, Ingra Liberato, Brigitte Rouan, Nando Rodrigues, Nivaldo Nascimento, Yuri Holanda. (French, Portuguese dialogue.)

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