Apres Vous (French)

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Antoine is a maitre d’ at a nice Paris restaurant. He has a girlfriend of three years, and they have a pleasant, non-committal relationship. (Well, non-committal for him, anyway.) What he absolutely doesn’t need is to take on responsibility for a sad-sack whose suicide he prevents one night in a park. But that’s exactly what happens. Isn’t life wacky?

“Apres Vous” would be better if it were a little wackier, actually. It has the makings of a farce — a French farce, no less! — but never fully embraces them. It brings the game board, the fake money, the dice and the little car, and then refuses to play Monopoly. What gives?

Directed by Pierre Salvadori and written by him and two others, it stars Daniel Auteuil (from the much more farcical “The Closet”) as Antoine. This is essentially a Ben Stiller role: He is befuddled, put-upon, and slow-boiling, playing straightman to all the madness that surrounds him. Antoine stops Louis (José Garcia) from hanging himself from a tree, then takes him home to make sure he’s all right. You know how it goes from there: He is quickly drawn into Louis’ neurotic, messed-up life, intercepting the suicide note he mailed to his grandparents, getting him a job as sommelier at his restaurant. Before he knows it, he’s even hunting down Louis’ ex-girlfriend Blanche (Sandrine Kiberlain), a tall, blond florist who’s about to marry a clod, to deceive her into taking Louis back.

Most of the film is silly like that, but the different elements aren’t always firing on the same number of cylinders. Garcia is extremely panicky and broad as Louis, too over-the-top for me to find him funny, while the story as a whole is more low-key. For a while he’s the Jerry Lewis to Auteuil’s Dean Martin (or the Chris Farley to Auteuil’s David Spade, if you prefer), yet even that dynamic is not fully explored. It seems more accidental, like Garcia over-acted in a bunch of scenes and they kept it.

And then the last act does something else altogether, turning into a standard romantic-comedy as Antoine develops feelings for Blanche, lies are told, lies are uncovered, hearts are broken, and so forth. If the film was only barely surviving as a farce, its feeding tube is removed when it becomes a romantic comedy.

It’s not a bad movie, per se. Auteuil is actually very good as Antoine, with his exhausted facial expressions and natural flair for light physical comedy. It just needs a stronger focus to make it good. Be a farce or be a rom-com, but whatever you be, be it well.

C+ (1 hr., 50 min.; French with subtitles; R, scattered harsh profanity, some mild sexuality.)

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