In 1911, a thrill-seeking journalist returns from Egypt with a mummy in tow to help save her cataleptic sister, but finds Paris prey to a reborn pre-historic pterodactyl.
French wonderboy Luc Besson has always wanted to prove that European filmmakers could make big-budget blockbusters on an American level. He has gone on to prove it is feasible as a producer, through the assembly-line output of his Europacorp studio (responsible for Jason Statham's Transporter series and the surprise US hit Taken), but his newfound responsibilities as tycoon have also put a damper on his directing work (neither Angel-A nor the ill-advised Arthur series have registered).
With this adaptation of the cult Adèle Blanc-Sec comic books by acclaimed French artist Tardi, Besson moves to recapture the freewheeling sense of ambition and possibility of his earlier work. The offbeat adventures of a meddling journalist (a pitch-perfect Louise Bourgoin) in Belle Époque Paris respect Tardi's influences from dime novels, serialised stories and film serials like Feuillade's Fantomas.
If the visuals are as stylish as you'd expect (and I'm not sure the occasional rougher effect is not deliberate), the scripting, combining plotlines from at least three of the original stories, is haphazard and most of the star cast is wasted in what are little more than cameos. Mathieu Amalric's presence in particular, as one of the series' recurring villains that is completely redundant to the film's main plot, is mystifying. But the film's general cheerfulness and tongue-in-cheek humour are confident and charming enough to make this a lively time-passer, even if it's not a patch on The Fifth Element, still the closest Besson has ever come to a sort of state of grace.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha. All rights reserved by the author
Starring Louise Bourgoin, Mathieu Amalric, Gilles Lellouche, Jean-Paul Rouve; Jacky Nercessian, Philippe Nahon, Nicolas Giraud, Laure de Clermont, Gérard Chaillou, Serge Bagdassarian.
Directed by Luc Besson; produced by Virginie Besson-Silla; screenplay by mr. Besson, based on the Adèle Blanc-Sec graphic novels by Jacques Tardi, Adèle and the Beast, The Mad Scientist and Mummies on Parade; music by Éric Serra; director of photography (LTC, Scanlab, Panavision), Thierry Arbogast; production designer, Hugues Tissandier; costume designer, Olivier Beriot; film editor, Julien Rey; visual effects, Pierre Buffin; visual effects supervisor, Geoffrey Niquet.
An Europacorp/TF1 Films Production/Apipoulaï Prod co-production, in association with Sofica Europacorp and Cofinova 6, with the participation of Canal Plus. (French distributor and world sales, Europacorp.)
Screened: DVD, Lisbon, March 4th 2011.