Dir. Chris Nahon, Fr. 2005. 128 min.

L'Empire des Loups(The Empire of the Wolves) is another in a growing niche of moody, slickFrench action thrillers trying to compete with similar American and Asian fare.Adapted from a Jean-Christophe Grangenovel, as with the thriller CrimsonRivers and its sequel (all three starring Jean Reno), it is an exercise instyle over substance, a B-movie plot with A-movie gloss.

Director Chris Nahon (Kissof the Dragon) has made a film that while technically impressive, owes agreat debt in its art design, cinematography, editing and story to Seven, The Long Kiss Goodnight as well as the previous Grange adaptations.

The film, with its dual plotlines, stars the young,unknown Jocelyn Quivrin and the ubiquitous Jean Reno, as the archetypalmismatched buddy cops'one young and tenacious and by the book; the other gruff,pessimistic and ready to break the rules. They investigate a series of brutalmurders in Paris' Turkish community, where each female victim has been killedin the same grisly way. Simultaneously, the film unfurls the story of a youngamnesiac, played by sexy Spanish actress Arly Jover (Blade), trying to piece back her life and memory as she experiencessudden, horrific hallucinations. L'Empiredes Loups sets up this Memento-likeexistential mystery of trying to recover her identity as she begins to getparanoid. Naturally, the two stories converge as the film progresses, leadingto the detectives to confrontations with the Turkish underworld.

Because of its brooding atmosphere and bravura, Hollywoodaction-thriller energy, L'Empire desLoups should easily find an international audience both in theatres and,among the genres fans, later on video.The filmmakers' technical expertise proves once again that French cinemaisn't limited to talky, character-study arthouse films.

Jean Reno effectively reprises his familiar, croak-voicedand droopy-eyed hero that he has played for years in both French and Americanmovies. Quivrin and Jover are both refreshing and interesting to watch, thoughReno is the only one with real screen presence, and the movie knows it. Theactors do their best with standard melodramatic action-thriller dialogue, butultimately the acting takes a backseat to atmosphere in this film, whichpresents a David Fincher-esque view of Paris as alternatively slummy-chic andantiseptic, aided by spooky aural cues and sinister ambient music.

What dooms L'Empiredes Loups is that its intriguing setup and slow reveal of the mystery isfar more interesting than where it takes us by the end; the film is less thanthe sum of its parts. Likewise its quick moments of horror are shocking andunpleasant, and by consequence, the film begins to feel manipulative as itjerks the audience around a plot that drives forward with a momentum morefaithful to by-the-numbers thrills and the demands of the genre than with thenecessity and logic of the story. By the end it devolves into an absurdgeopolitical-theological mishmash that unintentionally leaves viewerschuckling.

For much of its running time, in pace, spectacle andtechnique, L'Empire des Loups standsproudly next to some of the better Hollywood thrillers. But in plot, dialogueand heart, by the end, it ranks amongst our least thrilling.

Prod cos: Gaumont, TF1 Films

Int'l Sales: Gaumont 33 1 46 43 20 24

Fr. dist: Gaumont

Exec prod: Patrice Ledoux

Scr: Chris Nahon, Christian Clavier, FranckOllivier (based on Jean-Christophe Grangenovel)

Cine: Michel Abramowicz

Ed: Marco Cave

Prod des: Guy-Claude François

Main Cast: Jean Reno, Arly Jover, JocelynQuivrin, Laura Morante, Philippe Bas.