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Stars: Dany Boon, Julie Ferrier, André Dussollier, Marie-Julie Baup, Dominique Pinon, Michel Crémadès, Nicolas Marié, Yolande Moreau, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Omar Cy

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Very French, very Jeunet and very quirky, this is a cranky comedy with underlying currents of seriousness. Full of bizarre mechanical inventions and visual gags, the fast-paced plot centres on the vaguely Buster Keaton-like figure of Bazil (Boon), who hardly ever smiles. Small wonder: his father was killed in the desert by a mine, and he himself barely survives a stray bullet to the head (he still has it in his brain) in a gangland shootout.

Hapless and homeless, he's befriended by a group of second-hand dealers who live in a sort of Aladdin's Cave of scrap metal and the like, put to unusual uses.

They include a contortionist (Ferrier), a human cannonball (Pinon, a dead ringer for TV chef Antony Worrall Thompson), Tiny Pete (Crémadès), a king of strange contraptions, and a human calculator (Baup).

When Bazil discovers the identities of the arms dealers responsible for his father's death and his own plight, his new friends pledge to help him gain revenge.

Lots of funny moments punctuate the plot. I particularly liked the placing of a mine at a soccer match so that the first player who treads on it blows up. OK, I have a warped sense of humour, but it is the ultimate red card.

There's even a funny 'toilet' joke, a real rarity, and a lovely moment when Bazil stands on one side of a pillar miming to a busker singing on the other - and takes all the money (he gives it back).

It all gets a little near the too-serious line at the end when the arms dealers are cornered, but even this scene is lightened by an unexpected denouement.

Boon is a perfectly still centre for the fun to revolve around, and Ferrier delightfully piquant as the 'elastic girl' whose unusual talents enable our heroes to get into the bad guys' houses undetected. Cornered, she escapes by hiding in a fridge. Just don't ask how she gets out.

David Quinlan

France 2009. UK Distributor: E1 Films (Warner Brothers). Central Color.
103 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 21 Feb 2010