In a lot of ways, French Connection II -- that's right, no "the" -- makes sense. The abrupt ending of the original French Connection had French bad guy Alain Charnier(Fernando Rey) escaping the cops despite dozens surrounding him in a New York warehouse, never to be found. Not a very satisfying ending to have our hero come up emptyhanded -- and not just that, we're merely told about it via title card right before the credits roll!
FC2 picks up right where things left off, with Doyle (Gene Hackman) hellbent on revenge. With Charnier still at large, Popeye zips across the pond, to Marseilles, where he brings his rough-and-tumble brand of policework to an unsuspecting and sleepy French populace, seemingly more interested in April Fool's Day shenanigans than stopping the heroin trafficking that's going on right under their noses.
As with the original film, Doyle spends a lot of time making small talk with locals, wandering the streets, and getting drunk as he searches for Charnier. The only difference is that this time he doesn't have any jurisdiction at all, though the local cops seem to tolerate him no matter what -- even when his antics get an undercover policeman killed on the street. That's likely why things turn sour for Doyle who, in the film's major set piece, ends up kidnapped by Charnier and injected with heroin daily until he becomes a blubbering junkie. The goal is really to get Doyle to spill his guts about what he knows regarding the operation, but it eventually becomes clear he doesn't know anything at all, so Charnier overdoses him and dumps his comatose body on the steps of Police HQ. The set piece continues as the police docs keep him alive, then put him through cold turkey detox in the comfort of a stone-walled jail cell.
Decades before Trainspotting, French Connection II is worth watching for these two lengthy sequences alone. They might however be the only reasons to see the film at all. As plots go, there's not much intrigue to be found on the shores of Marseilles, and when FC2 does try to up the ante, it's almost comical in its attempt: Blood invariably looks like red paint, and, in what otherwise ought to be a fun scene, when Doyle finds the hotel where he was held captive, he burns it down with a gallon of gasoline which never seems to run out. For a film that stakes its reputation on gritty realism, these are amateur goof-ups that are nearly unforgiveable.
Hackman is of course wholly watchable here, but with the exception of Rey, who gets far too little screen time, the remaining supporting cast are largely forgettable. One exception: Hackman attempting to get drunk in a French bar, and having a hell of a time finding a glass of whiskey. Eventually he and the snooty bartender find the common language of booze and close the joint, stumbling out into the night. Too bad these little moments are few and far between: FC2 may wrap up the story the original began, but it just doesn't have the same magic.
The Blu-ray release (the film is out of print on DVD) includes an interview with Hackman, two commentary tracks, and an isolated score track.
Run time: 119 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 21st May 1975
Box Office Worldwide: $12.5M
Distributed by: Fox
Production compaines: 20th Century Fox
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Fresh: 16 Rotten: 5
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: John Frankenheimer
Producer: Robert L. Rosen