Just six years before The Artist made Jean Dujardin an unexpected Oscar winner, the actor was known mainly for his short-format work on French TV. That changed in 2005, when he starred in the batty French surfer comedy Brice de Nice, which went on to become the biggest local hit of the year. The big joke of Brice de Nice — i.e. a guy called Brice from the city of Nice, on the French Riviera — is that the dim wannabe surfer with the stringy, peroxide-blond hair lived on the Mediterranean, where there are no real waves. A superfan of Patrick Swayze’s character in Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break, Brice is something of a walking paradox as he’s both as dumb as a rock and simultaneously specialized in clever and mean put-downs (he would slay the reading challenge on RuPaul’s Drag Race). More than 4 million Frenchies went to see the film in cinemas, and this is how a bottle-blond surfer gave birth to Dujardin the movie star.
Fast-forward to the present, when the oddball character finally makes a comeback in Brice 3, a numerically challenged sequel that was again directed by James Huth. (The not-very-funny joke here seems to be that Brice “killed” Brice 2 with one of his mean put-downs.) French audiences will be curious to see this release, though it’s unlikely to match the first film’s numbers. International fans of the “French Sean Connery” who are not familiar with his pre-The Artist oeuvre, however, will likely be baffled by this sequel in which Brice, now 44, still acts like a bratty and self-entitled baby who’s in love with everything yellow.
A sketch-comedy character in search of a narrative wave.
The narrative is framed by scenes of a very wrinkly Brice (played by Dujardin under lots of old-age makeup) telling the story of his “greatest adventure” to a bunch of cute — and occasionally streetwise — preteen kids. It’s never quite clear why they are holed up in a wooden chalet in the depth of winter with an erstwhile surfer-dude fabulist who is probably in his nineties. But logic has never been a strong suit of the Briciverse, and the one thing these scenes have going for them is that the children occasionally call Brice out on his exaggerations or clear fabrications, such as when he recounts how he lowered an airplane window so he could crawl out and walk onto the plane’s wing and use it as a surfboard through the clouds (SFX are impressive in this sequence).
The story proper involves the fortysomething Brice responding to a message-in-a-bottle from his friend from part one, Marius (Clovis Cornillac, encoring). After his highly illegal surfer shack is bulldozed by the City of Nice, the protagonist doesn’t really have anywhere to go, so he decides to find Marius and offer him the help he’s asked for. Without a precise idea of where Marius is, Brice simply follows the instructions on his pal’s message to “take the first plane,” which happens to take him to Bordeaux, on the Atlantic (where surfing is possible). He tells a cab driver at the airport he’s come to be “with Marius” so he’s dropped off at a bar called “Chez Marius” (the take-the-French-language-literally jokes wear thin quickly).
While the level of humor on display here is extremely juvenile, there are some chuckles to be had as Dujardin, like in The Artist, again excels at wordless and/or physical comedy. A perfect example is a slapstick-inspired scene in which Brice tries to get out of the taxi through the window because he can’t get his surfboard through the door.
The film’s final destination is Hawaii (filmed in Thailand), where, unbeknownst to Brice, a Brice de Nice-inspired, all-yellow resort has popped up and where Marius has become friendly with a native tribe. Audiences will likely have no problem accepting the resort, where contests for the best put-downs are held on gigantic tiki poles equipped with moveable surfboards. The place was clearly designed to confront Brice with his own weaknesses and obsessions and as such, it feels a little elaborate and out there but nothing that a wacky comedy such as this can’t accommodate.
More troubling is the depiction of Hawaii’s native population, which feels so retrograde that one half-expects a scene in which half-naked locals will cook the visiting white folk in gigantic cauldrons. This kind of caricatured depiction hasn’t been seen in North American films for decades, though for some reason, this is not only still acceptable in French comedies but actually de rigueur. This year’s biggest local comedy to date, Les Tuche 2, which also is set in the present, featured a Native American tribe who looked like a collection of warbonnet-wearing members of The Village People. It’s not a good look.
As in the original film, the sketch/standup origins of the character (and its associated limitations) are frequently visible. Some scenes work well individually and some ideas are cute or entertaining — such as a surrogate son in the form of a goldfish, complete with the lead’s blond hair, whom Brice refers to as “Fish,” a pun on the French word “fils,” or son — but the overall structure is full of unnecessary subplots, rambling, semi-amusing asides and unexpected interludes that vary wildly in tone (at one point, Brice turns into a musical on a fishing boat with the fish all singing along). And what little psychology there is, is handled in a way that’s overly predictable, right down to the film’s last zinger. However, Dujardin, who developed the character himself years ago, is clearly in his element and his jocular brio will likely keep at least local audiences hooked.
Brice 3 looks much more expensive than its title character, with plentiful special effects, on-location filming, a sequence in manga-like animation and expert use of famous classical pieces, such as Grieg’s Peer Gynt and the “Lacrimosa” from Mozart’s Requiem, as unexpected counterpoints or to cleverly exaggerate what is happening onscreen. Product placement is ubiquitous and very aggressive.
Production companies: Mandarin Production, JD Prod, Gaumont, M6 Films, Spartacus
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Clovis Cornillac, Bruno Salomone, Alban Lenoir, Noelle Perna, Jean-Michel Lahmi, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing
Director: James Huth
Screenwriters: James Huth, Jean Dujardin, Christophe Duthuron
Producers: Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer, Marc Dujardin
Director of photography: Stephane Le Parc
Production designers: Pierre Queffelean, Emmanuelle Pucci
Costume designer: Charlotte David
Editor: Antoine Vareille
Music: Bruno Coulais
Casting: Anne Barbier
Not rated, 95 minutes