Things were a bit quiet on the festival front today, seeing as how it was Sunday and all, so I decided to take a trip back in time. Today’s film is one that premiered here at the EIFF in 2009, though unfortunately I had to wait three years to see it.
Seen his wife? Lucky, indeed.
It is 1893. The US President’s plan to build a railroad to connect both sides of the country together has hit a snag: he wants it completed in a week, and the town where the two ends will meet is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. There is only one man who can clean up the town in time. The town is called Daisy Town, and the man is called Lucky Luke. Shakespeare ensues.
As cosmopolitan as my tastes in film are, it is still a little weird to hear everyone in a Western speaking French. Based on the Franco-Belgian comic book created in 1946, this is the fourth live-action film featuring the character of Lucky Luke, the lonesomest cowboy in the west. This one just happens to star the year’s Best Actor, Jean Dujardin, as Luke. If you have seen either of Dujardin’s OSS 117 movies then you will know roughly what to expect here. The film maintains that distinctly French combination of homage and parody of the conventions and expectations of the genre it is emulating. While it is frequently very funny, there are times when that humour feels a bit more forced than it should.
As well as the films sharing a similar style of humour, Dujardin plays Luke along the same lines as he did Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath; both are in a semi-constant state of bemusement with the world around them, and both are insufferably self-satisfied at times, but with Dujardin’s charisma behind them they are impossible to dislike. Luke is a bit of a novelty in the world of the westerns. Here is a legendary lawman and freakishly good shot, who has never killed anyone. Watching him expertly taking down and locking up all the bad guys in Daisy Town is where a lot of the comedy comes from. Most of the rest of it comes from Luke’s more famous compadres, Calamity Jane, Billy the Kid and Jesse James. Sylvie Testud plays Jane as the standard tomboy who happens to be in love with the clueless Luke. Most of the best moments however go to Michaël Youn as Billy and Melvil Poupaud as Jesse. Billy the Kid is a complete force of nature; a manic ball of energy and impudence, while Jesse is constantly quoting Shakespeare and has dreams of being an actor. Both are gunning for Luke, but end up as his backup against the movie’s main enemy. They want to do their best to protect him because nobody else deserves to kill him but them. It’s certainly a motivation I haven’t seen before, and it is hilarious to watch these two legendary outlaws bickering like a pair of old spinsters. Rounding out the cast, we have Alexandra Lamy (also known as Mrs Dujardin) playing Belle, the saloon singer who catches Luke’s eye – not to mention everyone else’s – shortly after his arrival in Daisy Town. She is comfortably the most compex character in the film, and Mme Lamy is very good in the part.
Westerns are traditionally only as good as their bad guy, and this is where Lucky Luke has more mixed results. The gambling-obsessed Pat Poker is a thoroughly watchable moustache-twirler, but he disappears for almost half the movie and the evil grand plan is so convoluted and random as to become nonsensical. I get that this is a parody of the genre and as such isn’t really expected to make perfect sense, but just a shade more of it would not have hurt.
Director James Huth chose to ignore the well-used natural locations throughout Spain and Italy that were practically on his doorstep and took his production crew to the deserts of Argentina to shoot the picture, capturing some gorgeous natural landscapes. It is a shame that he didn’t take the opportunity presented by such a long flight to polish up the story a little. A lot of the scenes work in and of themselves, but as a whole, it seems disjointed at best and just badly written at worst. What he has done though is to pack the film with loads of anachronistic music that works surprisingly well with the comic book tone.
I had never even heard of Lucky Luke before this film came out so I can’t speak to what the fans think of the movie, but to me it is a flawed curiosity; occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but just too scattershot for its own good.