A french comedy about a con man out to avenge the death of his brother.

From, Wednesday, 02 July 2008, Boyd van Hoeij

A small-time crook with a Europol officer on his tail runs into some bigwig colleagues, which may or may not have been premeditated by any one side in the convoluted caper comedy Cash. The second effort as a writer-director of the busy French screenwriter Eric Besnard (Travaux, Babylon A.D.) certainly looks the part, but the battery of stars (Jean Dujardin, Valeria Golino, Jean Reno, Alice Taglioni), exotic locales and flashy filmmaking cannot throw up enough of a smoke screen to hide the film's problematic screenplay that seems more in love with the abstract idea of countless plot twists than the actual plot twists themselves. French audiences plunked down the hard-earned titular goods over a million times during its home run, but more discerning foreign audiences will unlikely fall for this con so easily.

The French have coined the term "champagne film" for the kind of cinematic adventures that bathe in the luxury of Parisian penthouses, swanky Côte d'Azur villas and hotels, glamorous film-star leads and a premise that often combine pecuniary and mistaken identity themes. Champagne is indeed the right term for those films, combining as they do the type of sophistication that can be bought with money with a fizzy lightness that allows for an effective blend of comedy, romance and some elements from the action and thriller books. They were a staple of French cinema in decades past, but recently, perhaps seen the generally downbeat climate, the champagne films seem to have made something of a comeback with titles such as Hors de Prix (Priceless), Quatre étoiles (Four Stars) and Anthony Zimmer.

Its press materials indicate that Cash clearly aspires to the champagne film label, but like its blatant title seems to indicate, Cash is not nearly as sophisticated as the real champagne films, feeling more like a cheap hypermarché knock-off with a fancily designed label than the real deal. That is not to say that the film was made on the cheap: indeed, it feels like sophomore director Besnard was at pains to show off the film's substantial budget at every turn, as the film is chock-a-block with expensive stars, expensive locations and expensive cinematic trickery added in the editing room during post-production. Besnard's problem is that all his fussing over these admittedly not unimportant details has left the contents, or story, fencing for itself.

The set-up of the story is told easily enough: a small-time swindler nicknamed Cash (Jean Dujardin), an older colleague (Besnard regular François Berléand), a top criminal (Jean Reno), his stunning girlfriend (Alice Taglioni) and a Europol officer working hard in the hope of a promotion (Valeria Golino) are all caught in a web of swindles, swindles that hide other swindles and swindles that only appear to be swindles.

While there is no denying Dujardin's charm offensive, which goes a long way in compensating for many of the film's more obvious flaws, this is paycheck work for most actors on board. Valeria Golino, as the ambitious Europol officer, displays nothing of the brittle vitality she brought to her most famous French-language role, as Daniel Auteuil's wife in 36 Quai des Orfèvres. Irish actor Ciarán Hinds, who appears in what is nothing more than an extended cameo as her direct boss, brings little to his role beyond his character's physicality.

A Hammond organ and wind instruments dominate the breezy soundtrack from Jean-Michael Bernard, who, before scoring Michel Gondry's movies, worked as an orchestrator for Ray Charles, which might explain the score's semi-improvised, retro feel.

Character: Captain Barnes
Co-stars: Jean Dujardin, Jean Reno, Valeria Golino
Director: Eric Besnard
Screenplay: Eric Besnard
Run-time: 100 mn
Release date: 23 April 2008 (Fr)

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