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Don't Die Too Hard!
 (a.k.a. La Tour Montparnasse Infernale & The Towering Montparnasse Inferno)
(2001)
 

Director: Charles Nemes            
Cast:
Eric Judor, Ramzy Bedia, Maria Foïs


So I was wandering around the new release section in my neighborhood Roger's Video(*) when the box for Don't Die Too Hard! caught my eye, and a couple of interesting features on its cover made me walk over to take a closer look. The first interesting thing about the front cover was a statement printed in the middle that proclaimed, "When Dumb And Dumber meets Die Hard!" Kind of a strange combination, I must admit, but one that, after several seconds of thought, does indeed seem to have the potential to generate an acceptable number of humorous moments, as well as moments more action-oriented. The second interesting thing about the cover was another blurb, this one printed at the very top the cover. It read, "A new comedy with ERIC and RAMZY!" Eric and Ramzy? Who, I wondered, are Eric and Ramzy? Their faces pictured on the box didn't ring any bells. I had to wonder if this was yet another case of rappers or hip-hop artists starring in a direct-to-video movie. (Incidentally, why do almost all rap and hip-hop artists use pseudonyms instead of their full real names? Are they ashamed or something?)

Reading the back of the box, the answer as to why I had never heard of these guys before quickly became clear. It turned out that Don't Die Too Hard! was a French movie, and later I found out that Eric and Yes indeed.... two without brainsRamzy are not rappers, but instead a famous comic duo in France. "What?" you are probably saying, "A French movie that's not about art, and actually has comedy and action?" Yes, you read it right. I had previously heard rumors about a new direction French film has been taking for the past few years. Rumor has it French filmmakers finally figured out that nobody was seeing their movies because French film was pretty much a big pretentious bore. "Hey," these filmmakers then reportedly thought, "Maybe if we made more real movies, more people would see our movies!" That's what I've heard, but until recently I haven't been able to see many recent French films to confirm or deny these rumors. Brotherhood Of The Wolf is supposedly a real movie, but because of its inept Canadian distributor I haven't had a chance to see it yet. The Crimson Rivers was a somewhat confusing murder mystery, but engaging all the same, and it was indeed a real movie. Gamer was an ill-conceived attempt to make a movie for teenagers about the wild world of video games, but despite its awfulness it was still a real movie. Still, two real movies recently coming from a country does not necessarily mean a breakthrough in film culture, and I felt a look at Don't Die Too Hard! would make it possible to confirm if the French are indeed now making real movies on a regular basis.

Eric and Ramzy play two guys named... Eric and Ramzy. I got that from the credits, since at no time during the movie it is identified just which one is Eric, and which one is Ramzy. Their personalities are pretty much alike, and about all you have to differentiate the two is their physical appearance; one of them is a tall lanky fellow with a little scruff of facial hair, and the other guy is bald and somewhat shorter. We first meet them hundreds of feet up in the air on the outside face of the Montparnasse skyscraper in Paris, where they clean the windows between long bouts of their horseplay, such as when they have a contest to see who can make the most hits on the most passersby below with their saliva. During their months of work (if you can call it that), the bald fellow has fallen in love with Marie-Joelle (Foïs), an executive at one of the companies housed in the skyscraper, and his ineptness at reading lips makes him think that her stinging insults directed at him through the glass are affectionate remarks. In a contrived sequence not far into the movie, one such barrage of insults makes him think she has made a dinner date with him that night. (Maybe it worked in the original French - all I can do is judge by the subtitles.) Anyway, the scene, plus a later bucket mishap does give the duo a legitimate excuse for finishing their day of "work" late - just when a group of armed thugs storm and seize the building and the few people still inside - including Marie-Joelle. Discovering what has happened, the bald guy takes it upon himself to save his unrequited love, dragging his facial hair buddy along with him in the process.

As a comic team, Eric and Ramzy undeniably do show some comic talent. Refreshingly, in an age of strident comedy they do not make their characters almost But how, with those gags on? Swimming in one?seemingly self-aware that their excessive behavior is annoying to others - unlike, say, how Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels seemed to be acting like at time in Dumb And Dumber. Because the actions these dim-witted characters of theirs keep making seem to come from minds that are more believably naive, Eric and Ramzy don't come across as the least bit malicious. As a result it's easier to find something amusing about anything unconventional they do, even if what they do results directly or indirectly in someone else's misfortune. And while they each more or less share the same persona (unlike classic mismatched teams like Laurel & Hardy and Abbot & Costello), they generate genuine chemistry when they are together. Their verbal banter is fast-paced and has a natural feel to it, and their physical interactions (such as their mutual struggle to get through a ventilation shaft) generally click without having a feeling the actors had to labor long beforehand so that the scene would come out just right. They are also not afraid to poke fun at themselves, and their willingness to make themselves the brunt of the humor in the most childish ways possible just adds to their likeability.

Clearly, these two not only have the stuff to be really funny in a movie, but are able to be humorous in a wide range of ways. Unfortunately, even though they co-wrote the screenplay for Don't Die Too Hard! with two other screenwriters, this is not a movie that's a good showcase for their talents. Overall, the movie just isn't that good at all. To be sure, the movie does have its moments, all of them comic, because the movie essentially ignores any opportunity to entertain the audience with action sequences. One of the funnier moments comes when one of the duo decides to imitate what Bruce Willis did with a fire hose in Die Hard, though the results here are both more realistic and less successful. Then when his friend tries to pull him back up, there is a visual (as well as an audio) gag that had me laughing out loud. Even before the action starts, Eric and Ramzy have some good moments while they are cleaning the windows, including some tricks they play on each other (when one secretly splatters the other's window, the other tastes the splatter, declares it fresh, and deducts the guilty party must be nearby.) There are other amusing moments every so often, like when they manage to radio the police chief but their narcissism stops them from successful communication, and another time when one of them finds Internet access... but uses it to help himself in a quite different way than expected. Besides Die Hard, there are also some successful comic references to movies like Speed and Game Of Death. This is one sign of if a foreign movie is a real one - if it is clearly influenced by other real (usually Hollywood) movies.

However, there is also a reference to The Matrix that falls completely flat, simply copying one of the moments from that movie without the least bit of irony or parody in the recreation. As as matter of fact, most of the other attempts of humor in Don't Die Too Hard! fall equally French is such a colorful language!flat for various reasons. For one thing, there are several humor devices used that are in questionable taste. One of these devices is a woman's severed hand which the duo believes is some kind of Chinese good luck charm (?) The attempts at humor using this severed hand not only unfunny but leave an unpleasant taste to the surroundings, because you can't help but keep realizing that the hand was brought in through means of violence. Another equally offensive moment is when the duo is confronted by the Chinese member of the bad troop, and they feel they have to speak to him in pidgin French (written as pidgin English in the subtitles.) Maybe these attempts at humor might be funny to someone who was born and raised in France, but they are utterly unfunny in a North American perspective. Perhaps I simply can't fully appreciate this movie - the duo's constant mangling of their language does indeed seem to be a source of most of the movie's humor, and while the English translators sure worked as hell to approximate what the boys were saying ("God be appraised!"), I simply didn't find it funny. Maybe this verbal stuff wasn't funny in the original French; I just don't know.

One of the biggest problems the movie has is that it tries to be funny with very little to work with. While the situation in Don't Die Too Hard! may be promising, it can't deliver the laughs by itself. Unless you are making something like Kentucky Fried Movie, even the most goofball of comedies need a properly constructed story containing plot turns and evolving elements, as well as characters with some depth. Otherwise, the movie will essentially become a string of gags that feel like they come out of nowhere, instead of naturally coming out of bizarre situations and what the oddball characters will do in them. The movie at first seems to be following this track, but almost immediately after the armed thugs storm the boardroom and take hostages, pretty much every opportunity to continue so is almost blatantly ignored. There is a twist of sorts with the Marie-Joelle character later in the movie, but nothing of real significance is really done with it. And though she does eventually get face-to-face with Eric and Ramzy, the mostly feeble and forgettable humor to come out of the exchange is a big disappointment. The leader of the thugs (who is named - get this - "Whatsyourname") is made to only stand around the boardroom and bark orders in his radio - the movie doesn't even try to get him to do or say anything funny. In the end, the movie just becomes an endless repetition of Eric and Ramzy wandering around and bumping into the thugs and dispatching them by dumb luck. None of their shenanigans really affects the bad guys' plans at all, so with the limited story not really being affected, it all becomes tiresome fast.

As I mentioned before, there are not even any real attempts to break the monotony the movie's general unfunniness generates with some action setpieces. Don't see the point of this Bruce Lee parody? Well... there are 3 on that piece of glassMaybe it's just as well, because it sure doesn't look like the movie could have been any more successful at action than it is at comedy. It's obvious that the movie's budget wasn't particularly big, because a lot of stuff involving damage actually happens offscreen. When the thugs storm into the boardroom (previously having arrived at the skyscraper all piled in one car minutes earlier) and fire their guns to show force, we hear the gunshots and breaking glass, but we don't see this happening. In fact, "Whatsyourname" subsequently reminds the thug who fired that they are on a budget, saying, "If you must fire inside, avoid the windows!" Well, you do eventually get to see a little glass get broken in a gunfight near the end, though it's odd that the same machine gun bullets fired at walls only leave tiny scruff marks. Those particular walls, plus the others rooms in the skyscraper, all have a phony look to them, making it obvious that this was definitely not filmed in a real skyscraper. Which may explain why there are so many close-ups used in an attempt to hide the fact the boardroom and other important areas in the skyscraper (that would need a lot of space in real life) actually aren't that big here at all. There is also a low-budget look to the cinematography, with indoor and outdoor colors not looking quite right, and with the focus always seeming a little off-center. (Was this shot on digital video?)

Overall, Don't Die Too Hard is not a success. It looks somewhat cheap, its design feels like it was rushed during the conception stage before shooting started, and it just isn't that funny. However, I will give it this: It is indeed a real movie. It at least tries to entertain its audience, and bad as it might get, it's a movie you can sit through without feeling like you're under torture, or feeling like the filmmakers are trying to make you feel you are stupid and not "with it" (in an artistic sense.) So unlike some countries (such as a certain country in the North America continent whose name starts with "C"), it looks like the French film industry has a promising future ahead of itself. Vive la France.
 


UPDATE: I received this letter from Denis Solaro:

"Dear Greywizard, thank you for your patience in enduring Don't Die Too Hard! which I have myself seen in France on a rainy Sunday as La Tour  Montparnasse Infernale. Was it necessary to suffer that much pain when you took to review this film and was it also necessary for anyone to export a usual dim-witted comedy to a foreign market? I honestly would never have thought they would even tackle the English-speaking countries, but they did.

"Yes, those 2 guys are know over there in France and I get to see them on TV every time I pass by France. Their jokes are lame, but since they spit out 100 by minutes they hope that one would work. So when the movie came out, it was just that old recipe that was served again. Now don't believe a minute that a cultural difference between the US and France is the reason why some of the words fall flat, they do as well in French. What you have seen is also what I have seen as a native froggy.  And I also was left pretty cold with the Asian comments, which if I remember go as far as "yellow" or "lemon face" in French. Would I have been the actor in this film, I would have gone straight to the work unions or the court. The public also found those jokes quite stale. So why export it?! I dunno. So far there have been zillions of light comedies like that have never been exported, as you simply can't translate the references or aren't sure the comedy as a whole is that great. As a result, it's all the Goddard grade or the surreal stuff that filters to London or the US, sometimes an Amelie Poulain or two. The boring stuff, yep. So my sincere apologies on the behalf of our people, we come in peace.. usually :>

"As for The Purple Rivers
[The Crimson Rivers]. This one did well in other European markets,  so it's a good reason to believe it will do well anywhere, but it's not  that original. Serial killer with a vengeance lives clues behind and a  detective duo go thru all the possible criminology clichés you can think  of... Nah, this is 20 years old at least when compared to other US  flicks. Only the background is different, but this could have well been  a cheap rip-off of Seven made anywhere.

"Oh well, what more could I say. The European filming industry has it's own internal market that is sometimes level with Korean or Japan in big international thingies, but it's trying to re-build itself by copying Hollywood most times and invests in visual effects more than dialogues a
la Batman. Expect more deja-vus then and films that don't add up anything new to the current "courrants"."

Thanks, Denis. My guess is that the reason the movie got a release in Canada (it hasn't been released in the U.S. yet) was because the Canadian distributor thought they could pass it off as a movie starring rappers, suckering video stores into buying it.
 


UPDATE 2: "Renaud" sent this along:

"I am writing to you regarding your review of Don't Die Too Hard (aka in French La Tour Montparnasse Infernale). As French, I might be able to enlight you a little bit about the two main characters, Eric and Ramzy.

"First and foremost, I was extremely surprised to see that this movie had been exported outside France and that someone, somehow, have tried to translate it into English. Indeed Eric and Ramzy are very popular in France, and I personally like them a lot, however there humour has always seemed to me impossible to translate for the following reasons:

- Even if a "cultural gap" is not an excuse, you have to know that E&R were at the top of their popularity at the time the movie was released. After staring in a very popular French Sitcom called "H", they decided to produce DDH in order to surf on this popularity. So you can consider that DDH targets "H" and E&R fans above all else, and try to reproduce what previously had made their success. It is quite similar to Adam Sandler's movies in France: since nobody had never heard of him when his first movies were released in France, the audience was not used to his humour and the movies did not have any success.

- Almost 99% of E&R humour is based on puns and French grammatical mistakes. The essence of an E&R joke (and it was the same in the TV show "H") is that A) E&R have an intellectual quotient so low that they do not even know they are stupid (especially the bald one) B) So, in order to look clever they try to use complicated expressions (though must of them are clichés and stereotypes) or English expressions that they have seen on TV in US movies C) They make grammatical mistakes/use improper words and look even more moronic but usually they do not notice it. And that kind of humour is impossible to translate in English since it is based on an improper use of English by Frenchmen.

- About the Chinese member of the bad troop and the pidgin French, do not even think one second that this is a racist joke. E&R are only making fun of themselves but also of the French translations of foreign movies where the Chinese accent of some characters are often over-exaggerated (especially in Japanese Mangas). They are the only ones seeming ridiculous, hopelessly thinking that using pidgin French might help them getting mercy from him.

So of course the movie is far from being perfect, but you have to know that most of E&R humour is impossible to translate, especially in English.

 


* Roger's Video, for those who have never heard of it, is Canada's equivalent of Blockbuster, though unlike Blockbuster, they do not have the whiff of Satan around themselves. They stock porn, for one thing, and they do attempt to get the unrated editions of movies when available. As well, they order a good deal of anime and independent movies, whether they be genre or of an arty nature, Hollywood or foreign. Not only that, they do add older titles to their DVD catalog every so often. You can bet I'd be renting from them a lot more often if their prices weren't so insanely high. In fact, the only reason I rented Don't Die Too Hard! from them was because I had a coupon, and they were the only video store in town that stocked this particular movie.

Check for availability on Amazon.

See also: The High Crusade, Point Blank, Real Men

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