Dir: Patrice Leconte. Fr. 2006. 94mins.

Patrice Leconte, whosebelated second sequel to his breakthrough 1978 smash Les Bronzes was France's biggest homegrownblockbuster this year, stays in similar territory for his follow-up Mon Meilleur Ami.In fact, this broad high-concept comedy of the Dinner Game or Apres Vous variety could have been a Francis Veber film were it not for the odd moments of observationand restraint for which Leconte is celebrated.

Mon Meilleur Ami, which stars Daniel Auteuiland Dany Boon, the lead in Veber'srecent La Doublure,will doubtless be a hit in France where it opens through Wild Bunch atChristmas. Internationally, its chances for sales and limited distributionsuccess are also significant since it is a non-parochial crowd-pleaser withuniversal themes and a veneer of French sophistication that arthouseaudiences will lap up.

In the US, for example,comedies of this variety can be hugely successful as was witnessed by Veber's The Closetin 1994 ($6.7m through Miramax in 2001) or TheDinner Game ($4m through Lionsgate in 1999). Addto that Leconte's own impressive track record - Intimate Strangers made $2.1m in 2004(Paramount Classics), Man On The Trainmade $2.5m in 2003 (Paramount Classics), TheWidow Of St Pierre made $3.1m in 2001 (Lionsgate),The Girl On The Bridge made $1.7m in2000 (Paramount Classics) - and the film looks like a winner. No domestic dealhad been closed at Toronto, where the film had its world premiere recently, butoffers were being fielded by sales agent Wild Bunch. An English-language remakeis not out of the question.

Auteuil plays Francois, a middle-aged antiques dealer with abeautiful Paris apartment, a devoted lover and a thriving business. But he isalso callous, arrogant and self-serving. The film opens with him attending afuneral of one of his clients and trying to secure some antiques from theestate from the widow. It moves on to an auction where he outbids several heavyhitters for a classical Greek vase, much to the distaste of his businesspartner Catherine (Gayet) who is worried for thecompany's finances.

During conversation at agroup dinner that same night, Francois is confronted with the news that none ofhis acquaintances like him or consider him a friend. Catherine gives him tillthe end of the month to come up with a best friend as proof that he canactually have a relationship with another human or she will keep the vase forherself.

And so begins the search fora friend - a particularly silly section of the film which sees Francois seekfriendship from a fellow antique dealer who clearly dislikes him and his bestchildhood pal, who, it turns out, loathes him. Ironically, he also makes theacquaintance of a good-natured trivia buff and taxi driver called Bruno (Boon)who drives him around in his quest.

Of course, all along, as ifin a romantic comedy, Francois and Bruno are falling into friendship with eachother, and while Bruno trains Francois to be pleasant, Francois actually tastesthe pleasure of human comradeship. As the deadline draws near, he decides thatBruno will be the meilleur amihe presents to Catherine. But when he devises a plot for Bruno to steal thevase as a proof of the lengths to which he will go for friendship, he earns thecontempt of everyone, including a furious Bruno. It is up to Francois to repairthe friendship and, in doing so, learn the real valueof human bonds.

Even though Mon Meilleur Amiis transparently formulaic and as contrived as a rusty stage farce, Leconte brings a warmth to thecharacters and dialogue which makes it easy to forgive the film's faults andjust enjoy every predictable step. Auteuil makes histransformation to humility as subtly as possible, while Boon is delightfullyvulnerable and engaging as Bruno. A finale in which Bruno competes on theFrench version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' and, you guessed it, has to "phone a friend" to help him winthe Euros 1m jackpot, is both corny and compulsive.

Production companies/backers
Fidelite Films
TF1 Films Prod
Lucky Red

Worldwide sales
Wild Bunch

Olivier Delbosc
Marc Missonier

Olivier Dazat
Jerome Tonnerre
Patrice Leconte

Jean Marie Dreujou

Production design
Ivan Maussion

Joelle Hache

Xavier Dermeliac

Main cast
Daniel Auteuil
Dany Boon
Julie Gayet
Julie Durand