film & game reviews, the retro way.
Based specifically on the French version of popular 80's anime City Hunter, this live-action adaptation (also known as Nicky Larson Et Le Parfum De Cupidon) stars Philippe Lacheau as the lecherous private investigator Nicky Larson who is tasked with recovering a love potion that, in the wrong hands, could spawn disaster.
In the same vein as the 1993 Hong Kong City Hunter film, which starred Jackie Chan, this is not so much a faithful adaptation of the anime or the manga as it is a very "local" take on it. The French dub of City Hunter is a big source of nostalgia for those born in the 1980's in France as it boasted a ridiculously catchy theme song by Jean-Paul Césari and was shown regularly on the Club Dorothée, a classic show compiling various sitcoms and animated series, including anime, which are beloved to this day. The idea of a Nicky Larson/City Hunter movie from a French point-of-view might have seemed odd for some but not so much for those familiar with that specific era of television, who likely welcomed the project.
The film makes a genuine effort to get the look of certain main characters right, which is refreshing as the 1993 film didn't really try all that hard in that department. It also fully embraces key character dynamics, motifs (the big mallet does make an appearance), even the naughtier aspects of the show such as Nicky's unhealthy approach towards the ladies. The plot involves a failed attempt at stealing a potent love perfume which then finds itself lost, in the hands of a nerdy nobody, as P.I. Nicky Larson, a group of criminals and a mysterious assassin all chase the perfume, clashing amongst each other along the way.
The tongue-in-cheek tone of the film is both its best aspect and its worst. Some of the humor in the film feels right: Nicky's tit-for-tat bickering with colleague/love interest Laura (Élodie Fontan), the sudden slapstick breaks in the middle of the action, the over-the-top plot and characters. And yet, this movie, just like the Jackie Chan film before it, forgets that City Hunter wasn't just one big goofy farce from start to finish. For the most part, City Hunter is a melodramatic action crime show with a stylish film noir look and mood. The risqué slapstick humor works because it pops up unexpectedly, and briefly, in the middle of the pretend-serious tone whereas in the films, we barely get a rest from the comedy which overwhelms the whole thing.
There's a charm to this movie, just like there was a charm to the 1993 film, but this, again, feels too much like a missed opportunity to be entirely successful. Granted, the cast is engaging and the nostalgic references are amusing. The likes of Ranma 1/2, Inspector Gadget, Salut Les Musclés and Saint Seiya get a nod while Dorothée herself cameos with Jean-Paul Césari who sings the theme song about halfway through. Nicky Larson fans will find a good amount to enjoy here, and the action itself is creative and quite well done which will appeal to casual viewers. The jokes are often much too heavy-handed and not fitting of the original show, however, and this will become a big turn off by the end.
This is a fun French comedy that needed a lot more restraint in the script department, much better dialog, more action and a considerably moodier look. As it stands, it will entertain die hard fans and it'll work adequately as a curiosity but it is regrettably nowhere near as good as it could have been. Here's hoping that if a sequel does happen, it manages to keep what worked here whilst delivering something a little more faithful to the anime.
Uneven yet endearing farce.