Turnabout is fair play, I guess. When Billy Wilder made his last movie, “Buddy Buddy,” in 1981, he and I.A.L. Diamond based their script, about a hit-man who found himself stymied in completing a job by the interventions of a suicidal jerk whose life he’d saved, on a French comedy by Francis Veber called “L’Emmerdeur” or “A Pain in the A–” (1973). Now Pierre Salvadori has essentially resurrected the basic plot, though he drops the hit-man business and transforms the put-upon savior into an overly-solicitous maitre d’ at a Parisian restaurant, making him so zealous in his efforts to make the nebbish’s life worthwhile that he nearly ruins his own in the process. But sticking pretty closely to the basic narrative arc in most other respects. And, perhaps with a nod to his predecessors, he’s titled his movie “Apres Vous.” Unhappily, the third time is not the charm; this slight, tedious comedy should be allowed to end its misery as quickly as possible.
Daniel Auteuil works hard to inject some energy into the role of Antoine, the ultra-smooth master of affairs at the Chez Jean who encounters Louis (Jose Garcia) one night as the fellow is attempting to hang himself in a deserted park. After cutting him down and taking him home, Antoine tries to restore the pathetic fellow’s will to live–first by getting him back together with his former girlfriend Blanche (Sandrine Kiberlain), a florist now engaged to a clerk in her store, and then by securing him a job as sommelier at the brasserie despite the fact that the schlub knows nothing of wine and can’t deal with people. His concern for Louis poisons his relationship with his long-time girlfriend Christine (Marilyne Canto), who can’t understand why he assumes such extraordinary responsibility for the guy (a sentiment most viewers will quickly come to share), but that’s okay, because in the effort to reunite Blanche with Louis, Antoine falls for her himself–yet another complication. Of course, everything turns out all right. This is a comedy, after all.
The problem is that it’s a comedy that grows increasingly irritating as it spins its narrative web. Antoine’s motivations are never made even remotely comprehensible, and Auteuil goes to desperate lengths, using every trick in his considerable comic repertoire, in trying to make him a lovable character–futilely, as it turns out. Garcia is an even greater problem; he supplies absolutely no charm to the suicidal Louis, looking rather like Tony Shaloub’s Monk on an extremely off day. Kiberlain and Canto, meanwhile, bring very little to the party, and since the movie lacks any colorful supporting characters (save for Louis’ elderly grandmother, who disappears after a single brief scene), it has to rely almost completely on a quartet of leads who can’t shoulder the burden, especially since Salvadori favors a much-too-leisurely pace that drags the feeble plot out to only ten minutes shy of two hours.
Even the lights of Paris seem unusually dim in this limp, lackadaisical farce, which will not, one hopes, continue the cycle by spawning another Hollywood remake. Come to think of it, “Buddy Buddy” wasn’t very good, either.