Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adele Blanc-Sec

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“Indianette Jones and the mummy’s tomb.”

Good to see Besson back in the director’s chair. Outside of the kids’ Arthur series, the only movie he personally helmed in the 2000’s was Angel-A, but Besson has been delivering action heroines for 20 years. Most obviously with the hugely-influential Nikita, but also in The Messenger and, to some extent The Fifth Element and Leon. Here, he goes back to just before the first World War, where journalist Adèle Blanc-Sec (Bourgoin) is kinda like a proto-Lara, whizzing around the globe in search of adventure. She heads to Egypt to grab the mummy belonging to Ramses’s physician: she’s been working with Prof. Ménard (Nahon), who has discovered how to bring the dead back to life, and wants to use the arcane knowledge the mummy possesses to help her sister, who has been in a coma for five years. But Ménard, unwilling to wait, tests his powers on a prehistoric egg: the resulting pterodactyl escapes from the museum where it is housed, and terrorizes Paris. Detective Caponi (Lellouche) is on that case…

This is a light, frothy confection of a film, that cheerfully whizzes around, and is clearly not to be taken seriously. Witness the scene where Adèle attempts to ride the pterodactyl off to death row, where Ménard has been sent, after being deemed responsible for the beast’s carnage. “It can’t be more complicated than a camel,” mutters our heroine, and one senses some of the Gallic humour may have been lost in translation. What’s left to enjoy are the broader strokes: caricatures like a moustachioed detectives or a big-game hunter, a beautifully-constructed recreation of the period and a heroine who is decades ahead of her time. Adèle is supremely self-confident, feisty and unstoppable, and former weather-girl Bourgoin makes you really root for her. Oddly, the highlight is perhaps a tennis match with her sister, that is simultaneously funny (it starts as a traditional 1910 women’s tennis match and ends up…not), tells us about Adèle, and terribly tragic.

More of that would have been welcome, as the film is too breezy for its own good, with none of the other scenes packing any emotional wallop heavier than a feather pillow. That’s a shame, as Besson has shown himself more than capable of that – maybe all those kids’ films have softened him? As a result, what you have here is something that’s a cinematic crêpe: sweet and tasty, undeniably pleasant to eat, yet not the slightest bit filling.

Dir: Luc Besson
Star: Louise Bourgoin, Gilles Lellouche, Philippe Nahon, Nicholas Giraud

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