Dir/scr: Coline Serreau. Fr. 2005. 112mins.

Comedy writer-director ColineSerreau came a cropper two years ago with 18 Years After, a pointless anduninspired sequel to Three Men And A Baby, her 1985 sleeper smash that definitivelyturned the tide for Hollywood's remake industry. Now Serreauattempts to return to the social comedy that is her hallmark with St Jacques... La Mecque,but her hand is again shaky.

A road movie comedy aboutthree dysfunctional siblings obliged to undertake a pilgrimage to come into aninheritance, this is a largely formulaic effort in which Serreau'swriting talents are only intermittently visible and her surreal effects toostrained.

Still, with such popular leadsas stand-up comedienne Muriel Robin, Pascal Legitimus(formerly of the satirical comedy group Les Inconnus)and Jean-Pierre Darroussin, alongside a supportingcast of fine but lesser-known players, Serreau hasenough talent at hand to make this at least a commercial return to form athome, where it opened on Oct 19.

But while her films areclosely monitored by remake scouts (her 2001 comedy-drama Chaos has been optedas a vehicle for Meryl Streep),the film's theme - the exploits of pilgrims along the great European route thatends at the shrine of St James in Compostella, Spain- is unlikely to lend itself to a cultural and geographical transposition forHollywood studios.

Serreau kickstarts the actionpromisingly, setting the tone with a trio of splenetic to-the-camera monologuesas a sister, Clara (Robin), and her two brothers, Pierre and Claude, (Penguern and Darroussin) learn oftheir estranged mother's death and the conditions under which they can inherit:all three must make the three-month pilgrimage to Compostellatogether and on foot.

It's a tall order since theyhate each other's guts as much as they resent the world around them and have nota religious bone in their body: Clara is a teacher supporting an unemployedhusband and family; Pierre is a successful but stressed-out hypochondriaccompany head; and Claude is a professional alcoholic and virtual tramp.

They are joined by otherpilgrims with their own private agenda, notably the young and attractive Mathilde (Bunel), seeking a newdirection after a bout with cancer and a bad marriage; and young French-born ArabSaid (Cazale), who is only making the pilgrimage tocourt a pretty schoolmate (Kremer) who, as a front, has persuaded his naive,dyslexic young cousin Ramzi (Saidi)to come along, leading him believe he is in fact going to Mecca with the hopeof learning how to read.

The group's guide Guy (Legitimus) also has his cross to bear when he realises thathis wife is cheating on him back home with his best friend.

Despite good performances (Darroussin, in particular) and some sarcastically funnyanti-clerical asides - an off-beat scene in which two nuns sort and comment on thehandwritten messages of the pilgrims - StJacques... La Mecque suffers from its unsurerhythm, Serreau's frequently ham-fisted direction andoverriding predictability. If the protagonists are full of rage and resentmentat the start, it's a sure bet that they'll be bathing in the milk of humankindness by the final scene.

Worse, Serreaufreights the action with portentous dream scenes that illustrate rather thandramatise the secret fears of the some of the protagonists. One wonder if shewasn't thinking of another, more famous comedy set on this same pilgrim's path,Luis Bunuel's 1969 The Milky Way, in which the surreal intruded in the mostinsidiously natural manner.

Jean-Francois Robin's photographymakes the most of the natural locations -and one striking scene of documentaryinterest at Compostella - the swinging of thecenturies-old, solid silver censer called the botafumeiro- has more symbolic power than all of Serreau'scumbersome CG effects.

Production companies
EnilocFrance 2 Cinema

French distribution
UGC Distribution

International Sales

Executive producer
Charles Gassot

Jean-Francois Robin

Catherine Renault

Production design
Antoine Fontaine

Hugues Le Bar
Sylvain Dubrez
Made Besson

Main cast
Muriel Robin
Artus de Penguern
Jean-Pierre Darroussin
Pascal Legitimus
Marie Bunel
Marie Kremer
Aymen Saidi
Flore Vannier-Moreau
Nicolas Cazale