So fast he can surprise his own shadow, so precise he can split the layers of paper in a playing card, Jean Dujardin is Lucky Luke - the wild west's fastest gun and most famed hero. Lucky for villains, then that Lucky Luke refuses to kill or none of them would stand a chance.
James Huth's big screen adaptation of classic French comic series Lucky Luke - which shares a creator with the equally classic Asterix books - is a charming burst of color and energy, a spot-on recreation of the manic energy and physics-defying gags that made the books so popular in the first place. Gorgeously shot in the deserts of South America and loaded with sumptuous design work and large scale sets this must surely stand as one of the most ambitious and successful translations of a visually-driven world from page to screen ever made. Even better, thanks to the presence of Jean Dujardin in the lead role and veterans such as Sylvie Testud filling the support parts the acting and character work is bang-on as well. Some risque humor and occasional forays into darker violence give a surprising edge to a film that features a (very funny) talking horse, as do some subtle satiric underpinnings.
John Luke is a man with a troubled past, a man who - as a young child - witnessed his father and mother gunned down before his eyes by a notorious and ruthless gang. That he was able to escape at all was nothing short of a miracle, proof that John is immensely lucky and so a new name is born and, with it, a legendary gunslinger.
Lucky is a solitary man, a man who roams the west with only his horse Jolly Jumper for company. A man who more than anything else just wants to go fishing in the Klondike. But his nation has other plans for him! With an election looming the president of the USA needs something, some great event, to boost his popularity. And he knows just the thing! He will complete the trans-continental railroad! But to do so before the election he will need to change the planned route and take the train straight through Daisy Town, the notorious home of countless bandits and thieves and - coincidentally - the home the Luke has not returned to since his parents were killed. Will Luke help his country now? Will he overlook his own history for the greater good of the town, the nation and his president? Of course he will but to clean up the town he must face Billy The Kid, Jesse James, the amorous advances of a childhood crush, the frustrated longings of Calamity Jane and - most of all - the devious schemes of Pat Poker.
French comic Jean Dujardin was simply an inspired choice to fill the role of Lucky Luke, the comedian continuing the remarkable hot streak he has been enjoying with 99 Francs and the OSS 117 films here. Dujardin shares with Peter Sellers the very rare ability to be very silly and yet very human at the same time. He gets into the skin of these characters in a way that very few can and brings them to life in such a compelling way that their worlds, no matter how odd or bizarre, seem perfectly real and believable. Luke shares a cheerful naivite with Dujardin's OSS character but here that is also fused to an elastic sense of Looney Tunes physics and a lurking dark undertone. Michael Youn and Melvil Poupaud may be less successful - though still adequate - in bringing Billy The Kid and Jesse James to life but Sylvie Testud's Calamity Jane and Danial Prevost's Pat Poker are absolutely perfect.
And what an incredible setting director James Huth has given his characters to play in. The landscapes are magnificent and epic, the design work brilliantly off-kilter. The final sequence, in particular, plays out in a set that would leave Terry Gilliam positively green with envy. Huth is a director who has never gotten the sort of recognition he deserves outside of France. His technical skills are impressive, his ability to shift and balance tone even more so. And his entire arsenal is on full display here.
Lucky Luke is a film that will give distributors unfamiliar with the source material absolute fits as they try to figure out what to do with it. Playfully violent in the same manner as the Road Runner cartoons there are a few moments here that may be considered non-starters for the very young while the over all tone is likely too Saturday-morning to really pitch the film to the teenage crowd. But forget about marketing demographics, this is just fun stuff beautifully made.
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