The Austin Chronicle

The Valet

Rated PG-13, 85 min. Directed by Francis Veber. Starring Gad Elmaleh, Alice Taglioni, Daniel Auteuil, Kristin Scott Thomas, Richard Berry, Virginie Ledoyen, Michel Aumont.

REVIEWED By Toddy Burton, Fri., May 18, 2007

French writer/director Veber is a filmmaker who's honed his craft on fast-paced farce. Having written the screenplay for La Cage aux Folles, he also wrote and directed the somewhat amusing The Closet and The Dinner Game. Absurdity and mistaken identity are his bread and butter. In the hands of say, Billy Wilder or Preston Sturges, these ingredients make for divine comedy. In the hands of Veber, the result this time around feels like a cheap knockoff. The structure is there, but the daring satire is not. With a thin and ridiculous plot, The Valet has a couple of likable characters, one or two decent jokes, and a lot of missed opportunities. François (Elmaleh) is a man without many prospects. As a parking valet at a swanky Paris restaurant, he's able to drive the big fancy cars, but only for a few moments. He shares a tiny apartment with his best friend (an aimless loser), and when he proposes to the object of his love (Ledoyen), she rejects him with the news that he's "like a little brother." Not to worry though, as the story moves along at lightning speed and François quickly finds himself in the midst of a zany plot. When a billionaire (Auteuil) gets nabbed with his longtime mistress – the supermodel Elena (Taglioni) – by a paparazzo, he scrambles to convince his stone-cold wife (Thomas) that it was all a mistake. Elena, he insists, is really with the other man in the photo – our hapless hero François, who, in actuality, was just passing through. So what's a wacky French farce to do? Why, insist that Elena and François live together in order to prove that they're an actual couple, of course! Cue ensuing antics. Shot with the creative energy of a mediocre sitcom, the scenes play out predictable plot devices with minimal creativity and even less risk. Despite a world populated with billionaires, supermodels, and working-class heroes ripe for social satire about class and culture, the jokes remain flat and safe. The only really amusing presence is a perpetually sick doctor always requiring care from his patients – a nice Molière homage that's lost in the mess.

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