It’s hard to deny that the United States is the capitol of action films. Our big-budget summer blockbusters just scream, “Explosions! Guns! Michael Bay!” While it can be simple enough to recycle the same material over and over again in a formulaic fashion without leaving the country’s borders, sometimes American films can be from foreign countries. When I think of French films, I usually think of romances, intellectual dramas, and bizarre art films. Rarely do I consider French films to be in the “action” genre. And yet, sometimes French action films can be brought over to America to give their action a high-octane boost. Sometimes, with the experts of action behind the wheel, the films become better. Sometimes they might have fared better if they weren’t exported at all. This week’s two films highlight a few examples of French action films exported to the United States.
Length: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours
While the action in an American version of a French film might be amped up, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a better movie. After all, a remake is still a remake, regardless of the country where its source material may originate. This fact isn’t necessarily constrained to action movies either. Diabolique (1996), the remake of the fantastic thriller, Les Diaboliques (1955), did poorly when compared to its French original. Similarly, Point of No Return (1993), tried to capitalize on the recent success of Luc Besson’s Nikita (1990), but to middling results. At least American audiences eventually received Besson’s films directly, with such gems as Léon: The Professional (1994) and The Fifth Element (1997). It seems Hollywood will grab up any foreign films that aren’t critically panned and will rush them into production, often to poor results. Look no further than the Anthony Zimmer (2005) remake, The Tourist (2010) for proof.
On a train to Venice as a tourist, Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp) is approached by Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie), who starts flirting with him, even going so far as to invite him to stay at her hotel suite once they arrive. Elise is doing this under instructions from her actual lover, Alexander Pearce. He wants her to throw the French Police and Scotland Yard off their trail by pretending that some random guy on the train is really him. As the chase continues, Frank finds himself in plenty of dangerous situations as the authorities continue to track him down in the hopes that they can retrieve the £744 million in back taxes. When the mafia joins the chase to recover the over $2 billion Pearce stole from them, the only way out of the situation is to reveal the truth. Of course, not only does Elise have her own secrets, Frank is hiding a secret of his own as well.
Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours
Remakes aren’t always bad. Sometimes, they can surpass their originals. For instance, most audiences will be familiar with Some Like it Hot (1959), but less familiar with the original, French film, Fanfare of Love (1935). Even good performances in movies like The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) might be lauded by audiences who merely hadn’t seen Purple Noon (1960). Directors will even take short films and expound them into feature-length affairs, just like Terry Gilliam did with 12 Monkeys (1995), an excellent adaptation of the “artsy” La Jetée (1962). Action films are relatively easy to transfer between cultures, but comedy can be a bit harder to convey with a straight adaptation. Still, elements of the comedy can be used as a framework to create a memorable film. For example, the main plot of La Totale! (1991) was utilized for the James Cameron comedy/action film, True Lies (1994).
Helen Tasker (Jamie Lee Curtis) is fed up with her husband. Because Harry (Arnold Schwarzenegger) isn’t paying attention to her, she’s craving adventure elsewhere. This was why she started contacting Simon (Bill Paxton), a man who claims to be a secret agent and is willing to let her help with an operation. Of course, Simon’s ruse is to merely get Helen into bed, but when the two of them are captured by a Black Ops task force, Simon reveals that he’s just a used car salesman. Helen, however, receives the opportunity to participate in a mission to seduce a mysterious man. In a surprise twist, Helen and the man, who is really her husband, are captured by Palestinian terrorists. As they escape their hostage situation, Helen learns that Harry isn’t a computer salesman, but is instead a Black Ops agent. The two of them team up to thwart the terrorists, saving their kidnapped daughter and the city of Miami in the process.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 exported explosions