"To write a comedy is a terrible pain. It has to be very precise, you know," explained writer/director Francis Veber after the U.S. premiere of A Pain in the Ass at this year's Palm Springs International Film Festival.
"I understand very well it's better to write a drama," the Frenchman continued. "People will never reproach you that that they haven't cried enough, but they will reproach you that they haven't laughed enough. So you're not safe when you're writing comedies."
Well, Veber seems safe enough here, and why shouldn't he? He's honed his talents by co-writing La Cage aux Folles (1978) and The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (1972) plus scripting and directing such recent four-star comic fare as The Valet (2006) and The Dinner Game (1998).
Like its creator, A Pain in the Ass (L'Emmendeur) also has an extensive history. It started out as a play, which was made into a film starring Lino Ventura and Jacques Brel in 1973. Subsequently, it was adapted by Billy Wilder into Buddy Buddy with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon before returning as a hit play that ran in Paris for over two years. And, as you have gathered, it's now back on the screen. Phew!!! But that's a history befitting a tangled plot like this one deserves.
Locale: Nice. [Nice, France, that is.]
Villain: Ralf Milan (Richard Berry) is a stolid hit man hired to assassinate a major crime lord who's about to testify in court against his former compatriots.
Anti-hero: François Pigeon (Patrick Timsit), a highly annoying, suicidal spouse about to hang himself from a showerhead because his lovely wife has left him for her shrink.
Circumstances: Milan and Pigeon have wound up in abutting rooms that share an inner door in the same hotel. Let the slapstick farce begin.
Veber, who has never met an absurdity he couldn't befriend, moves his comedy of errors along at a breakneck pace starting off with a ceiling collapse. Soon room service starts coming out of the closet, unconscious cops wind up going into a closet, tranquilizers are injected into the wrong arm, folks fall out of windows, motorcycles are stolen, and I've just recounted less than 10% of the action.
If you adore screwball humor, you'll embrace A Pain in the Ass. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell, who's currently teaching "Contemporary Israeli/Palestinian Cinema" at City College, has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.