"La Che vre" is a melt-in-your-mouth madeleine of a movie, impossibly slight but undeniably entertaining. Reuniting the comedy team of Pierre Richard and Gerard Depardieu (who floated through "Les Compe res"), it's a pleasant, knockabout French farce that makes the most out of very, very little.
Literally translated, "La Che vre" means "the goat"; more loosely, "the chump"; more specifically, Franc,ois Perrin (Richard), an accountant cursed with bad luck. He can't ogle a girl without falling into a hole, can't light someone's cigarette without setting his tie aflame, can't stroll the countryside without disappearing in quicksand.
His boss' daughter is similarly cursed, so when she disappears in Mexico, and the detective Campana (Depardieu) can't find her, the firm's psychologist has a great notion -- if Perrin accompanies Campana back to Mexico, maybe he'll get himself into the same scrape the girl did. "An unlucky guy," he says, "will slip on the same banana peel she does."
"La Che vre," in other words, is a one-joke movie; what makes it fun is the subtly tuned rapport between Richard and Depardieu, who toss comic consternation back and forth between them like a football. There's nothing particularly funny about watching someone walk into a glass door, but Richard, a gangly, long-nosed actor with a physique soft as chicken skin, adds an attitude. His Perrin has never known anything but bad luck, so he approaches his pratfalls with a nutty aplomb: I fell in a hole -- doesn't everyone? He may be a che vre, but he doesn't see himself that way, and the fun comes from everyone being in on the joke but him.
Depardieu is one of the screen's true originals, an extraordinarily versatile actor as comfortable with low farce as with high drama. With his big features and bigger shoulders, he's the perfect foil to Richard, Punch to his Judy -- a creature of logic, moving in a gracelessly straight line. Again, there's nothing particularly funny about watching someone beat people up, but Depardieu redeems these scenes with his brute brio; there's a real joy in watching him head-butt the heck out of gangsters while Richard looks on in squiggly incomprehension.
The movie is written and directed by Francis Veber ("Les Compe res" also), whose light crepes return to our screens years later as ponderous American pancakes, like "The Man With One Red Shoe." The charm is lost, the shell exhumed and tortured -- it's a sort of de'ja voodoo.