Film Review: Paris Countdown

Gallic gangster saga about estranged blood brothers forced to reunite after a killer from their past comes looking for revenge is strictly by the book.

The likes of Paris Countdown have been seen before and will be seen again. This doesn’t mean that Edgar Marie’s film is handicapped from the start; plenty of filmmakers can follow well-established paths and still do original, exciting work. But the careless approach that Marie takes to his characters and the plodding, duly executed genre narrative ensures that his genre entry won’t engender much interest outside of policier completists.

The under-scripted opening presents two friends in a bind. Victor (Jacques Gamblin) and Milan (former cop and policier veteran Olivier Marchal) are best friends from childhood now running a Paris nightclub in their middle age. Milan, the edgier of the pair, gets them into an ugly debt situation with pampered pseudo-crook Wilfried (Reda Kateb). The resulting cash handoff in the Mexican desert with bullet-headed gangster Serki (Carlo Brandt) goes south once the cops show up and torture Victor and Milan into giving up Serki.

Cut to six years later. Victor has become a responsible family man and restaurateur, while Milan is still running the club and burning the candle at both ends. Problem: Serki is out of prison and looking for payback. The solution for Victor is a sour pill to swallow but one he’s initially willing to do: finger Milan to Wilfried and Serki in exchange for keeping his family safe. Things get more complicated fast, and Milan and Victor spend one long night running from assorted thugs and assorting their rapidly dwindling menu of survival options.

Marie pulls rather rigidly from stock material to construct this highly familiar story. The contrast between the reserved Victor, who wears a hearing aid and makes people put on their seatbelt, and the hard-partying risk-taker Milan is sharply drawn but comic-book-thin. Wilfried is yet another crime boss who likes to threaten people while eating in chic restaurants and whose home’s minimalist design scheme is shorthand for a lack of moral fiber. In case audiences weren’t sure where they stood on Wilfried, Marie includes a shot of him in a tanning bed. A dubiously drawn contrast between Victor’s staid family-mobile and Milan’s supposedly chic roadster not only fails to produce the intended laughs but will likely also just confuse American viewers, Citroen enthusiasts aside.

There are the occasional flickers of potential. Marie cast smartly, though Gamblin’s Victor is so stoic that he barely registers a pulse. Serkis stands out for not being the expected bug-eyed sadist, but played with cool detachment by Brandt as more of a mechanistic dispenser of vengeance, a la Richard Stark’s Parker. One of Paris Countdown’s plusses, and one that other gangster flick practitioners would do well to emulate, is its compact running time; Marie keeps it all on a tight schedule. But that also means the film reveals so little from the glory days of Milan and Victor’s thick-as-thieves period that when they are forced to question loyalties and take stock of their friendship, the dramatic tension barely registers.