108 minutes

Bienvenue chez les ch'tis (Welcome to the Sticks in the uninspired English translation) was always going to be a very hard act to follow for its writer/director/star Dany Boon. That movie's record-breaking box-office in France and warm worldwide response meant additional scrutiny for whatever the amiable French comedian would come up with next. For better or worse, mr. Boon came up essentially with a retread of that film's fish-out-of-water humour and gentle ribbing of regional archetypes, set in Courquoin, a small Franco-Belgian border village, just as customs offices between both countries are to be abolished on January 1, 1993. The plot pits rabidly nationalist Belgian customs officer Ruben Vandevoorde (a magnificently unhinged Benoît Poelvoorde) against his milquetoast French counterpart Mathias Ducatel (mr. Boon) - who, unbeknownst to him, is in love with his sister Louise (Julie Bernard) - as they pair up in an experimental binational "flying squad".
     Mr. Boon scripts here on his own whereas on the previous film he had co-writers, and though both screenplays have similar flaws - constructed more like a loose series of sketches around a central theme rather than as a proper narrative, ending abruptly when the story has pretty much run its course - it's clear Rien à déclarer is a less developed and less inspired work. The writer/director/star does introduce a police procedural element, but it's mostly there for its comic possibilities and even then generally underused. What's worse is that most characters are restricted to paper-thin stereotypes that, despite the best efforts of its game cast, never actually go beyond a strictly functional presence. Only the central trio of mr. Poelvoorde (whose explosive energy pretty much drives the entire film), mr. Boon and ms. Bernard are able to give any sort of substance to their sorely underscripted roles.
     Mr. Boon is certainly a gifted comedic actor and an attentive director to his cast, who all look like they're having a ball. But the visuals are generally flat, handling is anonymously non-descript, and the general lack of rhythm suggests that, despite the well-meaning attempt at discussing prejudice and xenophobia and the occasional smart gag, Rien à déclarer is no match for its warmly remembered predecessor. The title sequence's comic-book type pretty much lays out the film as a broad, cartoonish comedy in a way that Bienvenue chez les ch'tis managed to avoid.

Starring Benoît Poelvoorde, Dany Boon, Karin Viard, François Damiens, Julie Bernard, Bouli Lanners, Laurent Gamelon, Olivier Gourmet.
     Directed by mr. Boon; written by mr. Boon, with the collaboration of Yaël Boon; music by Philippe Rombi; director of photography (colour, processing by Duboi, LTC, Scanlab, Panavision widescreen), Pierre Aïm; production designer, Alain Veissier; costume designer, Jean-Daniel Vuillermoz; film editors, Luc Barnier, Géraldine Rétif.
     A Jérôme Seydoux presentation of a Pathé Productions/Les Productions du Ch'timi/TF1 Films Production/Scope Pictures co-production, with the participation of Canal Plus, Cinécinéma, TF1, French National Centre for Cinema and the Animated Image, Wallonia Region and Scope Invest; with the support of the Belgian Federal Government Tax Shelter. (French distributor, Pathé Distribution. World sales, Pathé International.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 11 (Lisbon), May 20th, 2011. 


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