Dubbed the southern France version of the hit film Bienvenu Chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks), Kad Merad’s third directorial feature is a tangled mess of half-baked ideas and errant storylines. Doubtless conceived out of a love for the sprawling, ethnically mixed, vibrant city of Marseille, his film lacks focus and heart despite its good intentions. The cast of unrealistically colourful characters spin off in numerous directions leaving behind a confusing mix of part social-drama, part romantic-comedy, part buddy-movie. Merad seems as lost in the city as his character Paolo. And for a comedy, it commits the greatest crime of all – it’s not funny.
Paolo has spent the last 25 years living in Canada estranged from his family back in sun-drenched Marseille. When he learns from his brother Joseph (Patrick Bosso) that his father (Venantino Venantini) is seriously ill in hospital after a traffic accident, he decides to return home to visit the city one last time. But returning to the Marseille of his youth brings back a flood of memories. In helping his father recover from the accident, Paolo is plunged back into the heart of the city. And a budding romance with a overworked hospital doctor Elena (Judith El Zein) makes Marseille once again seem like a good place to settle down.
It’s odd an actor who has appeared in a string of hugely successful comedies (Bienvenu chez les Ch’tis, Supercondriaque, Bis) should have so little feel for comedy when he’s behind the camera. Gone is the observational, zany humour, likewise any attempt at witty dialogue. What’s left behind is an impression of Marseille as a metropolis full of football-crazy Olympique Marseille fans who spend their down-time listening to Flamenco guitar and dining on the beach. Bosso works overtime tyring to breathe life into a doomed project. And what could have be done and dusted in 30 minutes takes an achingly long one hour and 40 minutes to complete.