Dir: Coline Serreau. France. 2003. 90 mins
With 18 Years Later, Coline Serreau has made a surprisingly bland follow-up to her 1985 comedy, Three Men And A Cradle, which mushroomed from sleeper into one of the most successful French films ever, registering 10.25m admissions and taking around $71.75m by today's standards, as well as spawning a hit Hollywood remake (Three Men And A Baby).Coming after her more ambitious 2001 comedy-drama, Chaos, 18 Years Later may have been designed as little more than a recreational effort in which Serreau allowed her talents to function on automatic pilot. If one forgets that the director has produced some of the best French social comedies of the last quarter century, this sequel can be enjoyed as a pleasant enough confection that banks on fond memories of the original threesome of the title.
So far, 18 Years Later has fared well at a strong French box office, taking $4.91m, two weeks after opening on 630 screens, although it is unlikely to enjoy the word of mouth that made the original film such a social and film industry phenomenon. It will be an inevitable candidate for a remake, even if Hollywood already furnished a stale sequel of its own in 1990 (Three Men And A Little Lady). But Serreau, by displaying no real commitment to her material, may have banged a final nail into the coffin of any successors. That said, it will undoubtedly boost sales for the current DVD release of the original.
Serreau has been lucky enough to reunite his original cast, Dussollier, Giraud and Boujenah, somewhat greyer and jowlier but otherwise unchanged in their mental makeup and in their adoration of their young ward.
But the film's main problem, peversely enough, lies here. Serreau gets audiences hopes up with a brisk opening scene, re-introducing the threesome as virtually the same immature, often frantic bachelors as when audiences left them in 1985. The centre of their universe is still their 'baby', Marie, (Besson, Serreau's own daughter, who Jean-Francois Robin's digital camerawork does not flatter). She is now 18 and is about to take her final exams for high school graduation.
But all this is dispensed with in a few brief scenes after which the script strains to find something for the three godfathers to do. Apart from their continuing romantic problems with ill-assorted girlfriends, which provide some of the film's more amusing moment, the trio are reduced to being guest stars in their own vehicle (as when Gerard Depardieu and Christian Clavier took a backseat to a younger generation in last year's Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra).
Besson's mother (Leroy-Beaulieu, whose career was launched by this role in 1985) reappears in France with her new American husband (Samuels) and his two grown-up sons (Lavollay-Porter and Thierree) in tow for a holiday in the Avignon region. Thierree, the classic wimp next to his athletic old brother and dad, immediately falls in love with Besson. Afraid to speak to her, he secretly spends the holiday at the gym and in dance and language classes in order to wow her off her feet in the final scene (and in a few seconds of screen time, Thierree's pent-up talents explode in a way that remind audiences he is the grandson of Charlie Chaplin).
The film also features some facile pot shots at American health-crazed narcissism as embodied by Samuels (who, of course, gets his comeuppance); and a lame subplot involving the governess (Renaud) the family hires for their French stay and who mysteriously lugs around large stones in her luggage. In most of the above, the hapless bachelors have no real dramatic function.
Prod cos: Films Alain Sarde, Eniloc, TF1 Films Production
Fr dist: Bac
Int'l sales: StudioCanal
Exec prod: Alain Sarde
Prod: Christine Gozlan
Cinematography: Jean-Francois Robin
Prod des: Frederic Noy
Ed: Catherine Renault
Music: Coline Serreau
Cast: Andre Dussollier, Roland Giraud, Michel Boujenah, Madeleine Besson, Line Renaud, James Thierree, Ken Samuels, Philipine Leroy-Beaulieu, Gregoire Lavollay-Porter