The Valet Movie Review

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After a lifetime of carefully calibrating small-idea comedies, French director Francis Veber hits his biggest movie to date. Already planned to be remade in America by the Farrelly brothers and Veber himself, The Valet marks the first time where Veber's deft skills at wild-eyed slapstick and quick-witted jabs have failed him in his endless fascination with the comedy of manners.

It all starts with a poor valet named Francois Pignon (Gad Elmalah), who wants to be the knight-in-shining-armor to his longtime friend and crush Emile (Virginie Ledoyen). Emile needs money to keep open her quaint little bookshop, money that Francois is sadly without. Enter Mr. Levasseur (the great Daniel Auteuil), a philandering corporate dud, and Elena (stunner Alice Taglioni), his model girlfriend, who get photographed together by accident, with Pignon right next to them. The scheme gets thick: The businessman will stake the dough for Emile's store if Francois pretends to be the model's lowly boyfriend. The tent for the media circus is quickly erected as Christine (Kristen Scott Thomas), the businessman's loaded wife, mounts her own investigation into the validity of the relationship.

The Valet has enough madcap moments to be deemed enjoyable. It's a kick to watch Auteuil get all zany after his stark, riveting performance in Michael Haneke's Cache, especially when he starts to think his girlfriend and Francois are actually carrying on together. There's also Richard (Dany Boon), Francois' dolt of a roommate who is panicked over the prospect of living with his mom. Whether reacting to a bevy of models hitting on Pignon or being stunned by the knockout Elena, Boon has the rare talent to be able to keep you in stitches without saying a word.

The continuing adventures of the dimwit Pignon (Auteuil played him in Veber's superb The Closet and Jacques Villeret played him in Veber's 1998 romp The Dinner Game) are of interest, but there's a severe lack of concentration in this follow-up. Where his previous films' seemed completely in control of their story and characters, Veber's latest seems to be the first in line to fall for all the tricks and guffaws that it sets up for the audience. The laughs don't come out tumbling out but are approached with knee protectors, helmets, and back braces to make super-duper sure we don't miss the joke. If you listen closely enough, you can hear the "Laugh Now" box lighting up.

Veber has always been a screenwriter who just happened to also direct his own material, and that's what makes The Valet's leaky structure so surprising. The Closet was built like an impenetrable laugh machine, goals mapped expertly with slippery wrenches thrown in the system's gears at just the right moments. Here, the conflict is about as flimsy as the wrinkled ten-dollar bill you used to pay for your ticket, and the characters seem just as confused by their surroundings and actions as we are. We depend on actors like Auteuil and Boon because we know we can count on them for a good laugh. There was a time when you could depend on Veber for the very same thing.

Aka La Doublure.

Fountains of humor.

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The Valet Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG-13, 2007

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