Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
I simply adore Alice Pol and I know I’m not alone. I’d say all of France agrees with me. I’ve been touting her skills since first seeing her in a show-stealing supporting role in UN PLAN PARFAIT. She’s the French Kathryn Hahn, right down to her similar good looks and a killer knack for both drama and comedy. Outside of Lucille Ball and Hahn, I’d be hard-pressed to name another actress who could play both so well. It’s no wonder French writer-director-superstar Dany Boon continues to employ her in his films. He tapped into her straight-woman side in SUPERCHONDRIAQUE. Now he really lets her rip as the “funny woman,” blending her talents at physical pratfalls and punchy comedic timing, in R.A.I.D. SPECIAL UNIT. However, the action-comedy showcase – which he wrote with her in mind – quickly turns into something that doesn’t transcend its generic broad comedy confines.
Thirtysomething daughter of the French minister of the interior Johanna (Pol) has always dreamt of being a member of France’s elite police squad, R.A.I.D. The obsession rules her life. They are the badass last wave of support in any crisis, sent in to be the heroes – only it’s not without drawbacks, as it’s dangerous work. That’s why her overprotective father Jacques (Michel Blanc) and caring fiancee Edward (Patrick Mille) don’t fully support her life choice. However, when she doesn’t pass the tryout stage for the second time, and they see how despondent she becomes, they concoct a scheme with R.A.I.D. team leader Legrand (François Levantal) to allow her to advance as trainee. They figure she’ll bomb out on her own and not love it. Wrong! She loves it and excels. However, hijinks and hilarity ensue when she’s paired with misogynist R.A.I.D. taskmaster Gene Froissard (Boon), nicknamed “Gene the jinx.” As he’s determined to stand in her way, she becomes even more determined to catch a band of crooks – led by Balkan terrorist Viktor (Yvann Attal, masquerading as Stanley Tucci) – plaguing Paris.
While I love that Boon wanted to create something wildly feminist exclusively for Pol, the film suffers from his own inclusion. It’s of little surprise to learn that Boon had to write himself in after the financiers wanted to see him appear in his own picture. Whenever Gene appears, momentum drags and feels tangibly disjointed. His arc is a big nothing. He never appears as a terribly adversarial presence to Johanna. Sure, he says horribly sexist things like calling women “broads,” and saying they’ll mess up the team’s male camaraderie. But he doesn’t really impede her work, set her up for failure, or rat her out for unknowingly being the terrorist’s mole. It’s shocking that last bit doesn’t carry more narrative weight. Plus, it’s sort of a mixed blessing when their relationship turns romantic (a generic romcom trope), but she doesn’t gain career success based on that.
Ironically, it seems fitting that during Edward’s inevitable breakup with Johanna, a hit upside the head never comes. We’re kept waiting until we forget we were waiting for it. Though it’s wonderful their relationship doesn’t devolve into a hysterical screaming match, the breakup needed a bit more oomph. Things are further complicated by some very ropey CG during the final climax, which is too bad. We want to see Johanna in commanding control, doing more kick-ass stunts rather than running from room to room, dodging fake fire and ceilings that conveniently come crumbling down.
If R.A.I.D. SPECIAL UNIT launches Pol’s career into the stratosphere, and shows others what I’ve seen in her all along, well, then I can’t be too mad at it. However, the potential was there to make that launch pad so much better.
Grade as an Alice Pol showcase: A
Grade as a feature: C-
R.A.I.D. SPECIAL UNIT (RAID DINGUE) played COLCOA on April 30. It currently has no US distribution.