Dir/scr: Francis Veber. Fr. 2006. 83mins.
Francis Veberlacks a funny bone in The Valet,misjudging both his script and his cast in a romantic comedy about a lucklessyoung man obliged to feign cohabitation with a gorgeous top model.
A curiously lifeless affairthat seems vaguely inspired by PrettyWoman, it raises some smiles but few of the guffaws one expects from thewriter-director, whose previous hit, TheCloset, was snapped up for a Hollywood remake. The Valet is unlikely to enjoy the same attentions beyond home,even if its opening day results in France suggest a solid career in Francophoneterritories.
Veber has made a specialty from wacky screen (and stage)farces that play havoc with male bonding cliches,imagining variations on the tandem of the accident-prone schlemiel and thelong-suffering straight man. His nerds have usually been named Pignon (which translates as "sucker") and have beenembodied by the likes of Jacques Brel (in Edouard Molinaro's 1973 film ofthe Veber-scripted L'Emmerdeur), Pierre Richard(opposite Gerard Depardieu in Les Comperes and Les Fugitifs) and Jacques Villeret(in the stage and screen versions of TheDinner Game).
This time the chump (Elmaleh) is a valet parking attendant who walks into thesights of a paparazzi as he snaps a compromising photoof ruthless millionaire industrialist Pierre Levasseur(Auteuil) and his mistress Elena (Taglioni),a Karl Lagerfeld supermodel.
When the picture makes thefront covers of the celebrity press, Levasseur tellshis outraged wife Christine (Scott Thomas) that the model was with Pignon, not him. Levasseur thenhas his lawyer henchman (Berry) track down Pignon andoffer him money to pretend to be Elena's live-in boyfriend.
Pignon accepts the offer but only to help the debt-riddenbookshop owner (Ledoyen) he is in love with. Elenaalso cooperates, putting the squeeze on Levasseurwith the hope of getting him to divorce his wife and marry her.
Given the promising premise,the comic/romantic payoff is slight indeed. Pignonand Elena get along with no major problems, other than having to share a narrowbed in Pignon's curtainlessflat (they are being monitored by the respective spies of both Levasseur and his dubious wife). Elena even coaches Pignon in winning Ledoyen's heartand Pignon reciprocates by opening her eyes to herlover's underhand methods.
Veber has made a sluggish romantic-comedy when his realstrengths are in male-dominated farce assembled with clockwork precision. The Valet marks his first real attemptto create female protagonists but the results are bland - the lovely Taglioni is more sentimental than scheming, and ScottThomas and Ledoyen do not command enough screen timeto make a real impression.
Worse, the two male leads -who do not even meet until the final, anti-climactic scene - fail to providethe right chemistry. Elmaleh, a popular Moroccan-bornhumorist and stand-up comic with a subtle performance style, is less theclueless Veberian dupe than a self-effacing little man with few if any social graces. And although supposed tobe a guy whom no sexy female would look at twice, he has the kind ofthoughtful, appealing face many women would find attractive - more so, in anycase than the rich weasel played by Auteuil, who,after being the Pignon hero of Veber'sThe Closet, is unable to give hischaracter any humorous saving graces here.
TF1 Films Production
Kristin Scott Thomas