As if American culture didn't have enough trouble with its "post-racial" view of itself, along comes French import "The Intouchables," which is like a big-screen Rorschach test. Already picked up for a U.S. remake, this very successful import from the feel-good-movie team of Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano ("Those Happy Days'') delivers a great degree of tenderness between its protagonists -- an aristocratic white guy in a wheelchair, and the black guy who pushes him -- and it makes a lot of grand statements about what's important in life.
Both men, after all, are "untouchable" -- one because of handicap, one because of race and class -- and very different. Yet life is to be lived. Time is too short. In other words, if you loved "The Bucket List," you'll be exclaiming, "Incroyable!"
But it's more likely the viewer will recoil from Nakache and Toledano's race-based gags and easy humor, even in a film that's reputedly based on a true story (in which the caretaker was, significantly, Arab). The wealthy Philippe (François Cluzet, "Tell No One") was injured some years earlier in a paragliding accident, is widowed, has an unlikable daughter and fires just about everyone he hires as his attendant. Driss (Omar Sy), recently out of prison, has only come by to apply for the job so he can get rejected, and have the relevant paper signed for unemployment benefits. Philippe, perversely, hires him. Voilà: a Gallic odd couple.
Driss is infectiously upbeat, as well as distastefully cliched: He ridicules high culture -- what else would a black guy from the slums do? -- replacing Phillipe's classical selections with Earth, Wind and Fire, and proceeding to "get down." If he weren't black, he'd be wearing blackface. The only way to buy into "The Intouchables," really, is by considering it ironically, or like a fairy tale -- one that uses race humor to defuse anxieties surrounding race issues. Pardon moi, but that's asking a lot, even of a post-racial society.
PLOT A rich, white quadriplegic hires a poor, black, ex-con caretaker. RATING R (language and drug use)
CAST François Cluzet, Omar Sy
PLAYING AT Roslyn Cinemas, Farmingdale Stadium 10, Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington
BOTTOM LINE Film tries to walk the thin ice of race comedy, crashes through and drowns. (In French with English subtitles)