Getting the runaround, in a good way, ‘Point Blank’
The purest old-school action movie of the summer? Surprise: It’s from France. “Point Blank’’ is an adrenaline rush from its very first image - a door crashing open to reveal a wounded gangster fleeing for his life - to its climax in a crowded, panicky Paris police station 80-odd minutes later. Director Fred Cavayé packs what feels like twice as much movie into that brief running time, and if the story line doesn’t amount to much more than B-movie leftovers, there isn’t an ounce of fat on them.
There’s something reassuring, actually, in how sturdy some of those old noir plots are, with their little guys running in place as fast as they can before the gears of fate grind them up. Our hero this time is Samuel (Gilles Lellouche), a schlumpy homme ordinaire with a loving and very pregnant wife (Elena Anaya) at home and a nursing degree he has almost completed. That wounded gangster (Roschdy Zem) ends up on his hospital ward one night, as does a certain party who wants the gangster dead. Samuel stops the hit before it can happen, and while that’s good news for the gangster, it’s very bad news for Samuel.
So we’ve got a proper Hitchcock wrong-man chase on our hands, as the wife is kidnapped and Samuel is forced to become a part-time thug on the run from the law. His face on every newscast, he has to dash through Paris trying to stay one step ahead of unseen men with unknown motives, at the same time playing hide-and-seek with a tough lady cop (Mireille Perrier) and her police force rival (Gérard Lanvin), a smooth bully with wolfish eyes.
And when I say “dash through Paris,’’ I’m not kidding. “Point Blank’’ gallops, races, leaps, and barrel-rolls along with such relentlessness that we feel like we are the ones doing all the parkour. At the same time, the filmmakers take pains to remind us their characters are human. After one staggering mid-film chase sequence in, around, and out of the Paris Métro, Samuel pulls to a halt in an alleyway and discreetly pukes. By that point, you have a good idea how he feels.
The pieces of the mystery slowly click together, and the bigger picture they reveal isn’t at all original: corruption in high places, a murdered bigshot, a thumb-drive with incriminating evidence. Nothing you can’t watch on cable three times a night. “Point Blank’’ (which is no relation to the excellent 1967 Lee Marvin movie of that name) knows that what makes this kind of movie special isn’t what it tells but how it tells it, and how the people in it enact the crime-movie ballet of grace under fully loaded pressure.
Possibly the film’s most satisfying aspect is the relationship between the hapless hero and Hugo, the gangster who starts the movie in a medically induced coma and slowly climbs the rungs from victim to villain to accomplice to colleague to friend. If Lellouche gives an appropriately exhausted performance, Zem gradually sketches in the details so that the more we know about Hugo, the more we respect his terse professionalism. By the time “Point Blank’’ comes clattering to a close, it has become one of the summer’s more satisfying buddy movies.
Cavayé made a splash in France with 2008’s similarly fleet “Anything for Her,’’ which was turned into the lumbering 2010 Hollywood thriller “The Next Three Days,’’ starring Russell Crowe and directed by Paul Haggis. “Point Blank’’ is in every way the opposite of that bloated studio bruiser, and if the American film industry is smart, it’ll leave well enough alone.
What the movie doesn’t do, oddly, is leave much of an impression after it’s over. In one scene, Samuel and Hugo pay a visit to a bad guy who likes to loll around in silk PJs and listen to opera. Movie fans with long memories may realize with a start that the aria playing is “Ebben? Ne andro Lontana’’ from “La Wally,’’ last heard in the 1981 cult hit, “Diva.’’ “Point Blank’’ is no “Diva,’’ and it doesn’t want to be. Instead of reinventing the wheel with chic Gallic attitude, it just rolls that wheel downhill as fast as it can and dares you to get out of the way.