Brad Mirman's "Crime Spree" is the perfect example of movies where you could easily tell who saw it and who didn't: either it inspires a "huh?" or a big and sincere smile in the face. The film that features a gang of criminal screw-ups 100% made-in-France in Chicago, the American is so hilarious, with the same level of gentleness than other good-hearted comedies such as "My Cousin Vinny" or "Wayne's World" that the whole Tarantino or Guy Ritchie's rip-off allegations are absolutely meaningless.
To understand the simple but efficient greatness of "Crime Spree", imagine the opening scene, set in the dark. Two thieves are whispering, probably because the house owner is there, Gerard Depardieu as Daniel and Stephane Freiss as Julien, that came to steal a painting, one of them brought the flashlight but forgot about the batteries. Why? Because he brought everything that was on the list: gloves, pen, knives except the batteries because they were not on the list. The absurdity of his argument confined to comical genius
wait, now, as if it was not funny enough, there's the third one, Raymond as the fat well-mannered getaway driver, who joins them because
he felt alone in the car. In one minute, we have an idea of the guys we're dealing with.
Indeed, what is so great about "Crime Spree" is that the movie never cheats the viewer by delivering something else than laughs, even the most unexpected and random gags are inserted, not to mention some priceless one-liners. When Daniel's boss, Bastaldi, remarkably played by Ricahrd Bohringer, wants to point out his crew's incapacity, he throws a plate at his hands to indirectly signify that they were empty. Anyway, he has a mission for them, in the States. "You speak English?", asks Bastaldi in French, to which Depardieu immediately replies "Yes" as if it was the best guarantee that he does. Just imagine the scene in reverse: "You speak French?" "Oui". Each gag catches you totally off-guard.
This attention to little gags redeem the overall B-movie feel, that makes "Crime Spree" inferior to "Pulp Fiction" or "Lock, Stock" in a larger scope, but it's one thing to say that and another to accuse the film of being a cheap imitation when it clearly has no other ambition to be a funny story playing on cultural gaps
if one thing, let's not forget that the screenplay was written in 1996, and maybe if it was made in a time where France was more popular, remember in 2003, French fries were renamed "Freedom Fries", just to give you a certain idea of the context. But seriously, I'd trade any genuine laughs from predictable gags unoriginal than a timid smile from a film that tries too much on the sophistication.
"Crime Spree" is a raw pleasure with a level of naivety that almost confines to tenderness What makes the film less 'cinematically' great is. At one moment, two of the crew join the team, Renaud as the laconic Zero (the name is so neutral that it's hilarious) and Johnny Halliday as Marcel. At one moment, they fight to decide which radio station they'll listen to, they each want to listen to their own song. The joke is funny because it's so damn predictable when you have two of the most popular singers from France. The film doesn't forget to mock French' culinary habits with a beautiful scene in a restaurant conclude by Zero's comment: "no smoking, no drinking, what kind of country is that?" At least, Brad Mirman spared us the cliché with frogs' legs.
There is no need to summarize the plot which is a typical gimmick of the crime genre with the intricate plots that gets everyone gets mixed up, from a corrupt cop, a gang of Mexican hoodlums, black guns dealers and to an obligatory Mafia leader. Predictable, maybe. But it works. And on that department, "Crime Spree" uses two of the most endearing character actors who starred in the most acclaimed gangster films : Abe Vigoda as the venerable Giancarlo aka Mr. G. and his plotting capo Frankie Zemetti, played by Harvey Keitel in a great comedic performance as the no non-sense gangster who takes his business so seriously that he's inevitably hilarious.
As the fitting antagonist, Zemetti has a deal of good lines, to a negotiator who explains that the proceeds will be supernumerary, the stares he gives when he hears the word is priceless and naturally he asks what it means. The funny thing is not that the guy used the word because he's taking courses to enhance his vocabulary, but that Zemetti uses it the next scene with Mr. G, provoking the same "what the
?" reaction. Still, it's nothing compared to his explicit "What the F does that mean?" after Zemetti explained that he broke his own brother's arm because "honor without respect is like a horseless carriage". I can go on and on, if there was a Top 10 of Keitel's greatest roles, I'd put this one. His wisecracking and interactions with his men are absolutely hilarious : "You mean, French guys from France?".
The plot escalates very fluidly, featuring common archetypes of the gangster genre: shootouts, car chases, and even some dramatic moments handled efficiently because we do care for these characters. There's something absolutely endearing in characters that mustn't goof and yet can't help it, that's the quality that makes them irresistibly funny, with a honorable mention to Said Taghmaoui as Sami, the Arab intermediary who's the only one to believe in his toughness and macho attitude. And take it from someone who hate outtakes in ending credits, as they kill the very purpose of a film, this time, it works because the film is so humble it doesn't even ask us to take it seriously
... yet we do because it's truly one of the funniest films of the last decade ... and deserves to become a cult comedic classic.