Here’s something I didn’t know when I started watching this film: Lucky Luke is based upon a series of Belgian comics. It totally makes sense looking back, and also helps to explain why the film is largely so unaffecting. Much like the pages of a children’s comic book, James Huth’s film is bright, distracting and good fun but, at the end of the day, entirely two-dimensional.
Lucky Luke tells the story of a heroic gunslinger (Jean Dujardin) who is – one incident involving the death of his parents aside – the luckiest (French) cowboy in the West! Decked out in some butt-hugging Levis, a red bandana and an emo fringe that would put Tobey Maguire’s evil Spidey to shame, he traverses the salt flats of Utah on his trusty horse, Jolly Jumper, shooting at – but crucially never killing because of that whole dead parents thing – all sorts of baddies. Famed for his seeming invincibility and deadly skill with his Colt pistol, Lucky Luke is entrusted with an important task by none other than the (French) President of the United States: ridding a local town (and Luke’s childhood home) of its criminal population.
Luke throws himself into the task with gusto, riding into town, deposing the villainous Pat Poker (Daniel Prévost) and his cronies, and declaring himself sheriff. Poker, none too pleased about this, hires Billy the Kid (Michaël Youn) to come into town and kill Luke, and in the ensuing scuffle Luke finds himself doing something he never thought he would – committing murder. Horrified with himself, Luke flees town and hangs up his Colt, vowing to never use it again. Events conspire against him and before long, Luke finds himself set upon by all manner of bad guys, seeking to kill him and make their way into the history books for finally offing the famous cowboy. Inevitably, obviously, Luke picks up his Colt again and decides to do the right thing.
In story terms, then, it’s fairly simple. The largely unsettling thing about this film is its shifting tone. I have to say my favourite moments were the ones that resembled a silly spoof such as Hot Shots! e.g. Luke going around in his red onesie and getting slap-happy with his girlfriend (funnier than it sounds). Ultimately, though, the film never moves far enough in one direction to be truly satisfying. Just when you think it’s going to veer into out-and-out comedy, it reins itself in (yes, that was intentional) and becomes a far more traditional adventure story, complete with showdowns, betrayals and clunky exposition.
There is something to be said, though, for Huth’s directorial vision; combining elements of steampunk, the traditional Western, and even the Broadway musical. Heavily influenced by its cartoon roots, Lucky Luke is also strangely theatrical in its appearance, full of dramatic spotlights, bright colours and gaudy sets. In fact it wouldn’t be surprising if the whole cast suddenly burst into song halfway through. It’s this bold approach that raises Lucky Luke above the level of some sort of bland nonsense like Wild Wild West. And indeed, the cast does well with the material. Dujardin is dimple-faced and charming in the lead role, while Youn’s lollipop-sucking Billy the Kid is good fun, popping up at all the right moments to liven things up.
It might not be the most involving of films but there’s something inherently likeable about Lucky Luke. Perhaps it’s because looking at Jean Dujardin’s lovely face reminded me of how good The Artist was. Maybe it was the fact that the horse (SPOILERS!) started talking half way through. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because it’s French and you gotta love French people. Especially when they’re pretending to be cowboys.