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'A Friend Like Harry': White-Knuckle Viewing

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 27, 2001


    'With a Friend Like Harry' Sergi Lopez in "With a Friend Like Harry." (Miramax Zoe)
Life wearing you down? Boss breathing down your neck? Elderly parents becoming a burden? Wouldn't it be nice if they just dropped dead? Of course you didn't really mean that, now did you?

Dominik Moll's "With a Friend Like Harry…," a deliciously mordant French spine-tingler, toys with those scandalous fantasies that we suppress the minute they pop up from the id (like a bloated corpse from the black lagoon). In the movie's wildly effective, portentous opening scenes, Michel (Laurent Lucas), a morose young family man, is barely holding it together. He and the family are headed for their summer home in the country, which seems farther away with every sweltering kilometer. The car's too small for a family of five – three cranky toddlers and surly wife Claire (Mathilde Seigner) – and worst of all, there's no air conditioning.

Along about now, Michel sincerely wishes he had remained a bachelor. Lest he throttle his loved ones, he pulls into a gas station for a breather. While in the men's room, he's approached by the insistently friendly Harry (Sergi Lopez), who claims to be an old grade school chum. Michel doesn't remember Harry, but Harry not only remembers Michel, he has committed his boyhood writings to memory.

To prove it, he reverentially recites the poem "The Large Dagger Sheathed in Dark Night." Sheer genius. If only he, Harry, had been born with such talent instead of enormous wealth. When he learns that Michel is now a teacher and no longer writes, Harry begins a gradual invasion of Michel's life, inviting himself and his girlfriend into Michel's home and lingering and lingering and lingering. And then he starts eliminating one by one what he sees as his friend's problems. The longer he and his succulent fiancee (terrific Sophie Guillemin) stay, the more suspenseful and psychologically revealing the story becomes.

The movie's title invokes Alfred Hitchcock's droll lark "The Trouble With Harry," but its premise is more akin to his adaptation of "Strangers on a Train." Harry himself recalls a more selfless, even endearing version of the duplicitous sociopath played by Robert Walker in that movie. He kills not for kicks but for expediency. He's quite lovable even.

All of the actors are persuasive. The stocky Lopez, who won a Cesar, the French Oscar, for his ironic portrait of Harry, is best known to European audiences for his portraits of good-hearted, earthy types. While he's not exactly the guy next door, he doesn't look like a twitchy lunatic either – which is precisely the point.

It's a point that director Moll obviously understands and deftly exploits but that seems to have altogether eluded this country's new crop of bloodthirsty moviemakers. They know how to make audiences sick but are clueless when it comes to keeping them on the edge of their seats.

Like the headlines, "With a Friend Like Harry…" reminds us that the monsters among us look just like ordinary people. "He seemed so normal"…isn't that what the neighbors always say?

"With a Friend Like Harry" (117 minutes) is rated R for language, violence and nudity. In French with English subtitles.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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