I've always kept a keen eye on what Europa Corp, co-founded by Luc Besson, has brewing in its stable of works, engaging some really interesting filmmakers and screenwriters producing slick action thrillers from Taken to 22 Bullets, and even comedy and drama, such as Hallelujah! and The Concert which made it here last year, and ranked amongst my favourites for 2010. Paris Express, written and directed by Herve Renoh, can be viewed like a mash of The Transporter meets Taxi, with action toned down and compensated with more comedy.
We don't have an uber-cool, slick hitman / ex-military / martial arts master type as a protagonist, but a bumbling Sam Skjqurilngskwicz (try pronouncing that!) played by French comedian Michael Youn, stuck in a career as a courier who has great problems in meeting time, and to live up to his company's motto of "Zero Stress". Probably viewed as a company liability because his lateness translates to free deliveries, he bears the brunt of jibes from colleagues, and to make matters worst, faces a severe relationship breakdown with his girlfriend Nadia (Geraldine Nakache), providing him a deadline to turn up at her sister's wedding, or else.
But what a day it will turn out for Sam, as he gets embroiled in a conspiracy involving a parcel he picks up from Loki (Jimmy Jean-Louis), and soon finds himself being chased down by the mob, the cops, and even a femme fatale (Catalina Denis) as tables get turned, alliances get formed and double crossings part of the norm. Without real alpha-male skills to talk about, we see how Sam has to rely on his street smarts to wriggle out of tight situations, often relying in part on friends and family to bail him out. Having a motorcycle license and an available bike close by naturally helps as he zips around from point to point trying to meet targets set on him, and Michael Youn seemed to be at his element in his portrayal of an everyday Joe being caught up in some extraordinary situations.
Just as how the narrative sprawls with its myriad of caricatures each assisting or getting in the way of our man on a mission, the pacing goes through a cyclic motion as Herve Renoh sometimes seemed to have problems dictating how our courier Sam will react to the various set action sequences as he stumbles upon solutions to make him the accidental hero. One of the centrepieces in the film involves Sam turning in the package to the police, leading to a hilarious situation which pokes fun at the authorities and puts them in not so good a light, with dad Maurice (Didier Flamand) lending a helping hand to save his son from the slammer, involving staplers - brought back some memories since I actually had one of those in the film, and while it was heavy, I too had some fun with faking it as a weapon, not publicly of course.
Shot in the streets of Paris, this provides an opportunity for those who have not been to the city to have an up close and personal look, since Sam traverses through the different parts and districts, which shows off the diversity of the various regions without making it look like a manufactured video by some tourist board. This may seem like a little departure from the usual grittier Europa Corp fare, and in some moments I felt had unfortunately suffered from lost in translation, but it still contained enough of the expected action-comedy ingredients in its tank to make it an above average entertainer.
Paris Express opens in Singapore on 13 Jan 2011.