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Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of westerns. Actually, scratch that — I’m not a fan of formulaic, old-school westerns starring the likes of John Wayne, Roy Rogers, or anyone who sings kooky love songs to their faithful steeds. When I sit down with a movie about cowboys, Indians, and all stops in-between, I need a fair amount of style, an unconventional storyline, and, of course, plenty of non-stop action. If guns aren’t blazing and bodies aren’t dropping, my attention will waver. There are exceptions to the rule — the majority of Clint Eastwood’s westerns and Terence Hill’s “Trinity” series immediately spring to mind — but, for the most part, I’m a pretty hard hombre to please.
James Huth’s adaptation of Maurice De Bevere’s comic series “Lucky Luke”, meanwhile, contains almost too much cinematic cheese for one man to handle. It’s Sam Raimi’s underrated actioner “The Quick and the Dead” by way of Dr. Seuss, a dizzying display of colorful characters, skewed architecture, and outrageous action, wrapped tightly in the sort of illogical outrageousness that’s usually associated with Saturday morning cartoons. There are times when the movie seems completely overblown, as if Huth and company were so dedicated to delivering a faithful adaptation of the source material that they forgot to inject the picture with a manageable storyline. Substance is nowhere to be found.
Jean Dujardin stars as Lucky Luke, a crack-shot gunslinger who has dedicated his life to bringing down legions of seedy bad guys via non-lethal theatrics executed with an endless supply of luck. As a child, the wandering hero watched helplessly as his parents were savagely murdered by a gang of lawless bandits, an event which greatly shaped his merciful approach to vigilante justice. Several adventurous years later, the President of the United States has assigned Luke the task of thoroughly cleansing the streets of his hometown, a cesspool of corruption known as Daisy Town. He’s hesitant to accept, but eager to get to work.
There are, of course, numerous complications along the way. During a stand-issue “high noon” duel between Luke and the blatantly evil Pat Poker (Daniel Prevost), our hero does the unthinkable: he kills his enemy with a single bullet to the chest. Horrified by his actions, Luke hangs up his trusty Colt and vows to spend the rest of his days farming the land that once belonged to his father. Unfortunately, there are powers working against our hero that will force him to confront his past, discover the truth behind a devastating secret, and, naturally, save the world from the dastardly deeds of a villain that may or may not have something to do with the untimely deaths of Luke’s parents. Imagine that.
I realize how dreary the above passages may sound, and that’s partially my fault. For starters, I failed to mention the talking horse with a heart of gold or the portrayal of Billy the Kid as a under-developed man-child with an unhealthy obsession with lollypops. Sometimes it’s easy to forget about the silliness when Huth constantly reminds you that Luke’s parents died horribly, and that their only son has yet to accept their fate. However, despite these slips into overbearing melodrama, I sincerely doubt that “Lucky Luke” was meant to be taken seriously. And that, I think, is the film’s saving grace. Had Huth not approached the material with tongue pressed firmly into cheek, the whole thing would have been a total disaster.
Keeping “Lucky Luke” from sinking under the crushing weight of its inherent goofiness is a surprisingly strong collection of immensely talented actors. At the head of the herd is Jean Dujardin, who goes above and beyond the call of duty as the film’s titular hero. Dujardin is blessed with a Bruce Campbell kind of charm, and it allows him to deliver a staggering number of cornball lines without causing you to throw small household appliances at the screen. Other standouts include Sylvie Testud as Calamity Jane, Melvil Poupaud as Jesse James, and Michael Youn as Billy the Kid, the latter of whom steals almost every scene he’s in.
If taken purely at face value, “Lucky Luke” should provide its admittedly niche audience with a substantial amount of fun, especially those who prefer their westerns to be more than a little unhinged. Huth’s knack for strange angles, combined with some suitably campy performances, help raise this peculiar picture above the substantial limitations of its lackluster script. Having never read any of Goscinny and Bevere’s books, I’m not sure how it compares. All I can say is that I enjoyed “Lucky Luke” simply for what it is: a fun, light-hearted adventure that’s inoffensive enough to pass for family fare and strange enough to be embraced by fans of cult cinema. Those looking for depth need not apply.
James Huth (director) / James Huth, Sonja Shillito (screenplay)
CAST: Melvil Poupaud … Jesse James
Jean Dujardin … Lucky Luke
Sylvie Testud … Calamity Jane
Alexandra Lamy … Belle
Michaël Youn … Billy The Kid
Jean-François Balmer … The Governor
Daniel Prévost … Pat Poker