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Tavernier's first venture into comedy is a sharply observed look behind-the-scenes at French international diplomacy
prescottjudith13 November 2013
Legendary film director Bertrand Tavernier has completely changed register for his latest film, moving from the 16th century court of Charles IX of his last outing, La Princesse de Montpensier, to the corridors of the French foreign ministry with Quai d'Orsay based on the cult comic strip book of the same name. The book was co-produced by Antonin Baudry (writing under the pen name, Abel Lanzac), a young diplomat who worked as a speechwriter for former French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin. It has already enjoyed a huge critical success in France and this year took the prestigious best book prize at the annual comic strip festival in Angouleme. Quai d'Orsay draws on Baudry's experience of working with Villepin and his close knit circle of advisers and friends to depict a Kafkaesque world of confusing complexity deftly brought to the screen by Tavernier. Despite a career spanning nearly forty years, this is Tavernier's first venture into pure comedy. He has produced a film running at full tilt which weaves farce, burlesque, and fantasy into a tight, funny package that casts a sharp eye over the political machine without sliding into political satire.

Raphael Personnaz is Arthur Vlaminck, a recent graduate from the highly prestigious Ecole Nationale d'Administration, which produces most of France's top politicians from both sides of the political fence. Although he doesn't fit the stereotype of a young diplomat with his shabby clothes and gauche manner, he is hired by the minister Alexandre Taillard de Vorms (Thierry L'Hermite) to work at the foreign ministry drafting speeches for the minister himself. His lack of previous political experience makes him an easy target for the power struggles and back- stabbing of the minister's support network of advisers and back room staff. And it's not long before he's spinning between the minister, his chief of staff (Niels Arestrup) and a cabal of hard- nosed technocrats. Gradually Arthur learns the skills he needs to survive and find his place in the cut-throat world of high-level international diplomacy.

Translating what works on the written page to the big screen is a difficult task and Tavernier has plumped for the rhythm of the original comic strip, with one scene following another in quick succession. A couple of devices come straight from the comic strip format itself. Each time Vorms enters a room, for example, he is preceded by a gust of wind, a visual 'woosh', that sends books and papers flying and his language at times descends into childish invention. But Vorms is no fool. He is passionate about his role as foreign minister and is an exacting, if at times, slightly hysterical boss. L'Hermitte is perfectly cast as the academic, haughty minister who has the heart of a poet but not the talent. He shows a skill for comedy rarely exploited in recent years. One of the film's funniest scenes is a lecture by the minister to his staff on the importance of using a fluorescent pen to highlight a text delivered by l'Hermitte with just the right touch of insanity. Arestrup, as the faithful, world weary eminence grise, is the perfect counterpoint to the high-maintenance foreign minister and his Buddha-like presence often acts as a brake to stop the action from spinning out of control.

The film ends with a speech delivered by Vorms/Villepin to the UN back in 2003, the only speech ever to have received a standing ovation from the other members of the organisation. It's a moving finale to a whirlwind, behind-the-scenes tour of French diplomacy. Although some of the scenes seem to stretch credibility, Villepin is said to have seen the film and reported that it doesn't go far enough!
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A whimsical political satire, which never loses sight of its realist tendencies.
jsy3-404-83578312 March 2014
Taking a break from the world of drama, and coming fresh off a 16th century period piece, Bertrand Tavernier tests his hand in the world of comedy. "The French Minister", adapted from the comic book "Quai d'Orsay", is a whimsical political satire, which never loses sight of its realist tendencies. A transparent parody of the US-Iraq conflict, substituting Iraq for the fictional country of Lousdemistan, "The French Minister" depicts the life of Arthur Vlaminck, the freshly hired speech writer for the French minister Alexandre Taillard de Worms. Throughout the film Arthur is consistently hurled through a sea of endless rewrites and bureaucratic minutia, all the while, balancing the verbose personalities of the diplomats with whom he is forced to work with.

The film is an absolute pleasurable viewing experience that places the viewer in rapid succession of loosely connected vignettes. Lacking the typical story structure, the film rather invites the viewer into the world of diplomacy and bureaucracy, in a fashion that seems more circular than linear. One of Tavernier's strengths throughout the film is his ability to match the spaces in which the characters reside to the signification of their position in the bureaucratic machine. The circular nature of the narrative, and the spatial and temporal order Tavernier utilizes, comments of the ineffective, even comic, nature of bureaucracy.

Contradiction and repetition form the basis for the film's humor, as Arthur is continually shuffled from room to room; failing to be able to distinguish advice from deception. Despite the clear notion that Arthur represents the film's main character, he remains vacant for large sequences. Further, in many of the scenes where Arthur and Alexendre appear together, Arthur's presence is completely dominated by the aura of Alexandre, allowing the viewer to disregard Arthur altogether. Similar to style of the great French filmmaker Jean Renoir, the film's absence of a strong central figure allows for the stronger analysis of a series of characters, each representing a larger part of society. In this manner, the audience is not forced into the psychology of any one character, but allowed to view all of the characters from a distanced space.

Thierry Lhermitte's portrayal of Alexandre, paired with Tavernier's visual treatment, fashions a dynamic and dominating character. His narcissistic and pretentious attributes are equally matched by charisma and charm. Lhermitte's performance performs a similar overwhelming task on the audience, as his character does on Arthur. Likewise, through Tavernier's added elements of comic heightening, while farcical, remain grounded at all times in realism. Depicted as moving with such intensity that his entrances consistently cause stacks of paper to explode into a whirlwind of chaos, obsessing over highlighters to a point of absolute comic absurdity, and neurotically referring to his texts, Llhermitte's character is rife with humor.

As a testament to the writing, the film requires no deep knowledge of the political workings of government, nor does it fail to seem applicable to US notions of government. Despite its intimate relation to French culture and politics, the film's comedy is universal. Requiring from the viewer only their attention span, "The French Minister" performs the rest of the work. Travernier's film is a humorous and imaginative romp just waiting to be discovered.

Originally published via StageBuddy by Joe Yanick
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Political Satire
corrosion-212 November 2013
Quai d'Orsay is based on a comic book by Abel Lanzac (pseudonym for Antonin Baudry) who worked at the French Foreign Ministry (known colloquially as Quai d'Orsay, after its location in Paris) as former foreign minister Dominique de Villepin's speech writer for several years.

In the film we have Arthur (Raphaël Personnaz) , a young speech writer for foreign minister Alexandre de Worms (played with relish by Thierry Lhermitte) who suffers from the minister's continuous barrage of shallow slogans instead of helpful directives. Tavernier has portrayed de Worms as a pretentious, shallow person with few redeeming features who appears to spend all his working hours highlighting quotations by his favorite authors with yellow highlighters. The film itself is a fast moving and reasonably funny farce focusing on the minister's helplessness in encounters at the UN, lunch with a Nobel Laurette, managing crisis at home (where he is ever reliant on the old hand Claude (played by the veteran actor Niels Arestrup) ad so on.

Quai d'Orsay passes the time quite pleasingly mainly thanks to fine acting and brisk direction but is not a high point in Bertrand Tavernier's body of work.
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Brilliant !!!!
abisio4 May 2014
Satire as was defined in old Greek plays; was the art to just exaggerate reality and became a critic in itself. You do not need to mock it, or change. Reality is fine in itself.

Quai d' Orsay (or The French Minister ) is the tale of guy who has to make the French Foreign Affairs Minister's speech.

The interesting thing about the movie; is that it never loss focus on where it is going. The guy is just an accessory; the important thing is the absurdity of political events, of Ministers that are only actors and the people behind the scenes that really move everything. Acting are superb. Niels Arestrup gives an Oscar or Cesar deserving performance as the Chief of Staff; the guy that really moves the wires. Thierry Lhermitte as the egomaniac intellectual Minister is equally outstanding.

Let's hope this movie gets a proper release and find a public; because i t is perhaps the best French comedy of the year.
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A sparkling, if occasionally forced, farce anchored by a larger-than-life central performance.
shawneofthedead8 December 2014
Anyone who's been confounded by bureaucracy at work will know that it's no laughing matter. Indeed, it can be the most frustrating thing in the world when an obvious solution presents itself, but red tape or bungling co-workers insist on getting in the way. It's a lot funnier when someone else is suffering the quiet ignominy of office politics, however, as evidenced by sparkling - if occasionally tedious - French political farce Quai D'Orsay (The French Minister).

The last thing Arthur Vlaminck (Raphaël Personnaz) expects is to get a phone call summoning him to an interview at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (known colloquially as Quai D'Orsay due to its location on the left bank of the Seine). He meets Minister Alexandre Taillard de Worms (Thierry Lhermitte) in a whirlwind interview, and is sufficiently impressed to agree to join the ministry as a speechwriter. As he meets his new co-workers, including the Minister's long-suffering chief-of-staff, Claude (Niels Arestrup), Arthur begins to realise that his boss' public persona might not quite reflect his private concerns or capabilities.

Anyone anticipating a grave, serious-minded look at the intricacies of French diplomacy should take note - Quai D'Orsay is really a raucous workplace comedy that happens to take place in the hallowed halls of the French Foreign Ministry. It's not that foreign affairs and public policy don't feature - they do. There's a ring of veracity to the proceedings, likely due to the fact that the film is based on the eponymous comic book by Antonin Baudry, which recounts his own experiences as a speechwriter for real-life Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.

But the emphasis here is firmly on the comedy of the situation. Arthur's optimism begins to fade as he's plunged into workaday reality, much of which involves the minister's staff frantically fixing problems while he storms around in the background and screams truisms lifted wholesale from Greek philosopher Heraclitus. There's something almost tragic to Arthur's increasingly desperate attempts to write the perfect speech for Taillard de Worms - it goes through several iterations, the focus shifting (oftentimes nonsensically) as the minister's moods dance, sway and waltz away with logic and good sense. At every turn, Claude is frustrated in his noble efforts to ward off a crisis in Lousdemistan - a surrogate for Iraq - by bickering colleagues and the fretful fluttering of his foolish boss. The film is constructed firmly around Lhermitte's breathless and, ultimately, breathtaking performance. Taillard de Worms is a character who is, in effect, a human hurricane: he literally churns up paper flurries (and thereby makes a mess) whenever he enters a room, flinging out pompous statements in jogging shorts or dragging down a meeting with non sequiturs. A lesser actor would not have been able to play the minister's curious blend of insanity and incompetence - one which somehow works just well enough to make it credible that this character is somehiin power. But Lhermitte does so with flair to spare, whether Taillard de Worms is obsessively speechifying about the importance of yellow highlighters or terrorising a Nobel Laureate at lunch.

While the film largely works quite well as a farce, Quai D'Orsay suffers somewhat in its editing. After a point, Arthur's travails and his encounters with Taillard de Worms grow repetitive and even tedious, particularly when the film nears the two-hour mark. That could be partly the point - imagine what it must really be like to live and work with someone like Taillard de Worms day after crazy day - but there's really only so much bumbling incompetence one can take before the comedy becomes a tragedy. Tavernier's film is smart and savvy in its satire but, like its main character, starts to grate on one's nerves the longer it belabours the same point.
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Oui, Ministre!
robinski3422 June 2014
Quai D'Orsay (retitled The French Minister for some markets) is a likable and highly amusing French political farce from director Bertrand Tavernier, perhaps best known for 'Round Midnight. Quai D'Orsay presents the shenanigans within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a wonderfully straight face, while delivering laugh-out-loud moments by the portfolio-ful. Thierry Lhermitte's turn as Minister Alexandre Taillard de Worms is delightfully effective, every bombastic centimetre the Gallic Jim Hacker, with no sense of the events around him, yet, unlike Hacker, he is brimful of arrogant confidence in the face of every disaster. His foil is not a scheming Parisienne Sir Humphrey, but his long suffering chief of staff Claude Maupas, excellently portrayed by Niels Arestrup. Enter Raphaël Personnaz as the youthful and politically naive Arthur Vlaminkck, then sit back and chortle as young Arthur learns the workings of the ministry the hard way, doing his best to manoeuvre through the eccentricities of the minister's characterful staff. Quai D'Orsay is an enjoyable film with plenty of smiles and laughs, yet at almost two hours, it does begin to feel a bit baggy after the first half, still well worth seeing however.
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Behind the Scenes at the French Foreign Ministry
3xHCCH11 June 2014
Arthur Vlaminck is a fresh graduate from a noted university is hired to be a speech writer for the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alexandre Taillard de Worms. Arthur would soon discover that his new boss is vainly self-centered and overly meticulous. Despite saying he wants a speech which is direct to the point, he has a speaking style that tends to be pretentious and rife with quotes from classic political texts.

The script brings us in the thick of the daily goings-on in the French foreign ministry, as the busy bureaucrats address this and that conflict. While the superpowers, US, Germany and France, are mentioned by name, the smaller countries they have issues with are hidden under fictitious names, like Ludemistan or Ubanga. There are generous references to NATO and the UN Security Council.

The elegant egoistic slave-driver Minister Taillard is very well- portrayed by Thierry Lhermitte. You will feel sorry and root for the harassed and toxic Arthur Vlamnick as played by Raphaël Personnaz as he not only deals with his difficult boss, but all the other big egos in the staff as well. Nils Arestrup provides that balancing force as he calmly plays the efficient Chief of Staff Claude Maupas.

From the start, you already get that this is written as a political satire as you witness Taillard address pressing issues with his strange idiosyncrasies -- how he orders a rewrite without even reading the draft, how he makes papers fly around by merely entering the room, or how he wildly wields his neon highlighter as he goes through his readings. This pattern unfortunately tends to be repetitive and will lose steam as the film progresses.
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Thierry Lhermitte did the job.
deloudelouvain2 August 2019
Politics, it's really not my thing, as I see them all as manipulative power hungry wolves in sheep clothes, so a movie about a French minister isn't the kind of movie I would go for but as Quai d'Orsay is a political satire it was just what I needed to have a couple good laughs. Making fun about people that think they are above everyone is just funny. Although the story is a bit repetitive it was funny and that mostly because of Thierry Lhermitte who did a brilliant job playing the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexandre Taillard de Worms. The whole movie is about writing a speech for the Minister, a speech that is never good enough and that needs constant modifications, it's repetitive but it worked.
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Quai D'Orsay : A 'Bertrand Tavernier' film which was inspired by a best selling comic book.
FilmCriticLalitRao11 November 2014
In French culture, 'Quai D'Orsay" refers to French ministry of foreign affairs. It is also the name of a best selling comic book which has been adapted into a major film by veteran director Bertrand Tavernier. This is his first attempt at making a comedy film. He has not disappointed his loyal fans as "The French Minister" is able to make people laugh even when the film's theme appears to be serious. As a film 'The French minister' is largely autobiographical in nature as it is based on writer Antonin Baudry's experiences as a young trainee. In the past, he worked as a speech writer for former foreign minister of France Dominique De Villepin. Tavernier focuses on the mad world of politicians who use too much of academic rigor in order to deal with questions which need a pragmatic, practical approach. He shows that things are so bad at French foreign minister 'Alexandre Teilhard De Worms' office that one can quickly understand that a statement dictated in the morning would end up getting changed in the evening. The film mocks France's attempts to get involved in all major conflicts which happen in the world. It reveals that French government doesn't have proper strategies in place in order to deal with all the world's troubles. The laughter is assured as Tavernier doesn't hesitate a bit in showing the idiotic personalities of people working for French ministry of foreign affairs. Lastly, "The French Minister" displays its concern for genuineness by shooting its security council scenes at the actual UNO site.
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Merriment without laughter, wit without guffaws
robert-temple-129 April 2015
It is odd how the French talent for satire can sometimes give rise to no actual laughter. This film is one of those strange examples. The original French title is QUAI D'ORSAY, and for those who are unfamiliar with the meaning of that, it does not refer to the Musée d'Orsay so dear to all art lovers (which is inside a converted former railway station on the Quai d'Orsay beside the Seine) but to the French Foreign Ministry. Because of its address, the Foreign Ministry has throughout the whole of modern times been referred to by the French as well as all foreign diplomats simply as the 'Quai d'Orsay'. This film is a wildly satirical spoof on the lunacy that the French imagine (and who can say they are wrong?) takes place inside their Foreign Ministry. The Foreign Minister is played with rampant satirical flair and panache by Thierry Lhermitte. He portrays the Foreign Minister as a charming lunatic who constantly contradicts himself, and never, never, never stops talking. He is constantly quoting the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus (whose work survives only in fragments, many of which make great quotes), but rarely with relevance. The comedy is enhanced by the film containing many inserted full screen cards giving spoof quotations from Heraclitus which are, of course, nonsensical. If only this film showed the subtlety of satire at which the British excel, but it is too 'in your face' and slapstick. They are just trying too hard to be funny, and although they certainly succeed at being most amusing, I did not laugh once, whereas at a British film of that type I would undoubtedly have laughed often. (As for the Americans, they have never heard of subtlety in satire, and true satire is largely unknown to Hollywood, and is better found in a performance by the Second City group, who have never made it to the screen and remain firmly onstage as satirists.) The finest performance in this film is certainly by the wonderful Niels Arestrup, who despite his Danish name (his father was from Denmark) is as French as they come. He calmly runs the Foreign Ministry and deals with the continually recurring international emergencies amidst all the chaos around him, while his incompetent minister and the other hopeless staff run around in circles like mad dogs. No one ever notices that he is doing this. Let us hope that there is at least one Niels Arestrup in every French Government ministry, for otherwise the country could collapse under the weight of its collective political idiocy. And speaking of idiots, lest we forget the current President Hollande, his girl friend Julie Gayet appears in this film as one of the Foreign Ministry staff, though she makes no big impression. But then perhaps that is because I do not have a motor bike and have never learned her finer points. (Now that is subtle satire for you!) The omnipresent Jane Birkin has a good cameo in this film as a Nobel Prize-winning authoress whom the Minister wishes to meet and takes to lunch but talks so much himself that she does not get a word in. And for Jane not to get a word in is something! Hardly likely in real life. The director of this confection is the distinguished and well known Bertrand Tavernier. I wonder whether the French themselves laughed out loud at this film, and that my own laughless and wholly silent appreciation of it was merely a cultural artefact. Do I lack a Gallic organ? Such thoughts haunt me at nights.
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the jester speech
Kirpianuscus29 June 2017
at the first sigh, a splendid comedy. seductive for humor, impeccable performances, for the air of French style to banter itself , with grace and precise art. at the second sigh - portrait of contemporary diplomacy. the minister as image, the hard work of staff, the delicate international files, the solutions and errors and bizarre advice, the family life and the pressure of job, conflicts, expectations and selfish. a fundamental institution as a clock. or labyrinth. "Quai d'Orsay" has the virtue to be more than a good film. but a guide for see the international relations. sure, in an ironic note. but fair and useful. for understand the responsibilities of a great European power diplomacy. and for discover a new perspective about events of every day.
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(Staying) in the loop
sesht17 June 2016
Warning: Spoilers
In the vein of biting political satires like 'In the loop' and 'Veep' (both having a lot of talent in common, both in front of, and behind the camera) and maybe even yesteryear's 'Yes, Minister', this work of art, based on a popular French graphic novel (informed by this movie's curator at the viewing venue) is as entertaining as those other works are.

This also has similarities to the Michael Keaton | Geena Davis starrer, 'Speechless' (which could've had more bite, to be honest).

There is also a lot of insight that seems to have gone into creating some timely and topical content (and I don't just refer to the running gag with the funny acronym for 'NATO') wrt France and its role in World politics, while keeping the tropes of the genre the same - viz, wheels-within-wheels, political machinations, permanently and consistently dealing only in abstractions, heavy impact from minuscule statements (something that literally drove 'In the loop') etc.

The movie also shines a light into the personal lives of a few of our leads, also (in my opinion) boldly touching on how personal recommendations from proximity to powerful people is the only way to get quite a few things done, regardless of geo.

The little things, that kept running throughout unflaggingly, really did it for me - the minister's entrance always disrupting various papers all the time, his tech-savviness or lack thereof (there's a really juvie gag on board the equivalent of AFO, where in spite of the juvie nature of the whole thing, it works big-time, in eliciting more than just guffaws - that, in addn to the juvie-level awkward high-5 moment), one lead character nodding off during meetings (with the Minister being completely oblivious to it - or is he?), airport-venue car seating allocations and its impact (something I thought would go in a different direction, but did not, and while that might not have worked in a lesser flick, in this one, it seemed like the makers took the high road, and I absolutely loved it), each para/statement needing to highlight a particular attribute, the minister's dad reflecting on 'those days' at possibly the most inopportune time possible, the 'fixer's' secretary ensuring that her boss' instructions are carried out (which keeping a caring, motherly eye on him), the running gag about the highlighter (hilarious, to say the least) and much, much more.......

There is one sequence, in a restaurant, which has been choreographed like an elaborate fight sequence, or a dance move, or for the local audiences, something from a daytime soap (in terms of quick cuts from various camera positions, for varying perspectives, to provide greater impact) that is, by itself, imho, the price of admission. It goes on for a bit, and is hilarious, to say the least. If French was my native language of communication, it might have had greater impact, but both the acting, staging and eventual sub-titling are so good, that we could only marvel at the feat.

Thierry Lhermitte, a la Tom Hollander (In the loop), is your typical foggy minister, but seems to more brains than he;s given credit for. It also shows the Red-Blue mix of bureaucrats around this seemingly conservative politician, who all have 1 goal, seemingly the minister's agenda, and the various tools and methods they use at their disposal to realize it, or a part of it.

Veteran chameleon actor Niels Arestrup, playing the Peter Capaldi 'fixer' role, make it his own by doing completely the opposite of what Capaldi became known for, and yet captures every scene he's in, without being as showy, and showing us why it is not completely necessary (love Cpaaldi's interpretation of that character though).

Our 'in' is the main (not really) naïve character, played by L'Affaire SK1's Raphaël Personnaz (to be fair, this is what he did before), and the makers let this character breathe, and we always use his perspective to view the various goings-on. His being castigated, his initial disbelief, his being a 'fish outta water' - everything, not just makes us root for this lead, but also gives us the perspective needed not just to get entertained, but also be informed, and maybe even take sides.

Julie Gayet, is as effective as she is attractive, and her come-ons to various colleagues, and political courtship rituals are a hoot.

The bureaucrat singing bawdy songs (inspired by Gayet's character's rituals, of course), that become popular even in the lead's household, seemed to me, to be a fantastic touch on the part of the makers to liven things up more, and it's great that they kept it as a running gag almost 3-4 times.

Not to be missed, and worth repeated viewings.
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Foreign Officers
writers_reign29 April 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I can think - as, I am sure, can you - of at least a dozen French film directors I would check out if I was in the mood for satire/comedy before getting round to Bertrand Tavernier. Nevertheless that is what he serves up here in the twilight of a career devoted to more dramatic fare. People like Tavernier and his principal players - Thierry Thermitte, Niels Arestrup - don't, of course, do mediocre so we are speaking of an entertaining evening even if your knowledge of French politics is non- existent (although, purely by coincidence, the presence of Julie Gayet in a major supporting role is unlikely to harm its chances at the box office and it's really refreshing to see a young French actor - in this case Rafael Personnaz - who is the complete antitheses of the current crop that embraces Romain Duris, Gal Ulliel, Benoit Magimal, who alternate between sullen and arrogant, each firmly convinced he is God's gift. In short whilst not vintage Tavernier it is far from chopped liver.
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manitobaman815 September 2014
When this movie's good, it's fantastic. Then again, when it's bad, it's overlong, faintly chauvinistic and most definitely thicker than two short planks. But don't get me wrong. It has a lot to recommend it. From an action point of view, this movie's about as much fun as you can have with your pants still on. I mean okay, the movie doesn't give its audience any credit for intelligence, utilising a paper-thin plot to lead us about like a blind man, and the entire cast is really just left to sit around and look pretty. We're getting force-fed bad movies these days and you instantly forget them when you leave the theatre, so it's nice to see a film that doesn't care if you like it or not. You won't be forgetting it in a hurry. It's worth your time.
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