Dir Francis Veber, France-Italy. 2003 85 min.

After a sociological satire that was only fitfully successful (The Closet), comedy maestro Francis Veber is back conducting the score that has become his signature: the male-bonding farce. The adventures of a dim-witted, ne'er-do-well robber and a vengeful, cold-blooded professional on the run both from police and a gang of rival gangsters, Ruby & Quentin harks merrily back to the chase farces of Veber's earlier successes as writer-director, when Gerard Depardieu played impassive straight man to nebbishy Pierre Richard. Though not quite in the league of his best films, especially The Dinner Game (which ironically was a conventional but effective canning of his hit stage comedy), this is fast and funny light entertainment and should satisfy the expectations of producer-distributor-exporting major UGC both at home and abroad.

Since the breakup of the Depardieu/Richard tandem, Veber has had trouble finding a new winning odd couple for his original screenplays. With his new film he has hit on an inspired twist by having Depardieu now play the 'twat' (as playwright Ronald Harwood terms the Veberian gormless fool in his current London stage adaptation of The Dinner Game). Depardieu has proven how deft and subtle a comedian he can be, most recently as the lovestruck homophobe of The Closet. In Quentin & Ruby, he outdoes his earlier performances as a grinning hulk with the brain of a brontosaurus. Indeed, if Veber's farcical plotting is sometimes familiarly perfunctory, it is Depardieu who humanises the mechanics with wacky sweetness, charm and perfect comic timing.

The tone is set immediately with that familiar Veber setpiece, the botched holdup, as Depardieu bursts ineptly into an agency with gun in hand, only to find he's robbing a currency exchange window. After being redirected to the right bank across the street, he is nabbed by police in a movie theatre (where he has paused to enjoy a kiddie's matinee attraction) and imprisoned. Voluble, childlike and eager to make a friend (he wants to open up a bistro called 'The Two Friends'), Depardieu drives several fellow inmates to near-homicidal distraction before cop Richard Berry has the idea of locking him up with tight-lipped Jean Reno (whom Veber unsuccessfully tried to pair off with singer Patrick Bruel in his 1997 comedy, Le Jaguar, but who here is Depardieu's pitch-perfect straight man). Reno has intercepted and stashed away the loot of an armoured-car heist engineered by his criminal and romantic rival, Jean-Pierre Malo, and wants out to avenge his mistress' murder (Malo's wife). When Reno and Depardieu finally break out (in a hair-brained scheme only Depardieu's innocent brain could devise), the chase is on as police and criminals attempt to converge on the runaway pair.

Even when we're reminded of gags past, Veber is a master at recycling situations in hilarious new configurations and with editor Georges Klotz's aid he keeps the fun zinging along. On the debit side, Veber injects some uninspired film noir strophes, notably a climactic gun duel which jars with the comic tone of what has gone before. Even feebler is the 11th hour introduction of Leonor Varela's Albanian illegal immigrant whose sole purpose (apart from being the spitting image of Reno's murdered love) is to set up the disappointing denouement.

Prod cos: UGC Images, DD Production, EFVE Films, TF1 Films Production, Filmauro
Int'l sales: UGC Int'l
Exec prod: Said Ben Said
Scr: Francis Veber from an idea by Serge Frydman
DoP: Luciano Tovoli
Ed: Georges Klotz
Prod des: Dominique Andre
Music : Marco Prince
Main cast: Gerard Depardieu, Jean Reno, Andre Dussollier, Richard Berry, Jean-Pierre Malo, Leonor Varela