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Should've been less "Pulp Fiction" and more "Man Bites Dog" ...
A long dolly shot in a central hallway, loud footsteps follow a suspenseful music while the subjective camera gets closer to a targeted door. Like a first knock-knock joke, we can see from the peephole, two men, a big one, and a short, younger one stand and a big smile from the big guy announces the sarcastic tone of "Hors Service", a warning that what comes after shall not be taken too seriously.
Our visitors pass as Jehovah witnesses although a quick glance would make you wonder if they really have the 'working face'. The bigger one, Marchand, played by Dieudonné, talks with these illuminated eyes, "Jehovah is coming", big deal, the man politely asks them to get the hell out before he releases his dog, naturally, while he plays the big shot, he doesn't have time to think about the danger. Marchand asks his rookie, ironically named 'M'sieur!' ("Sir") to get some papers, a tool to distract your target ("anyone would take anything you give him") and bang! Bang! The mutt is silenced, and it's time now to bark about business, where's the diskette? "God they came for the diskette", the guy understands he's in a (clearing throat) uncomfortable situation.
"It's in the diskette box!", which sounds logical, as Marchand points out, after all, where else would you hide a diskette? Not that it really matters what's in the damn diskette, they could have as well asked about a box, a notebook or a CD, but for obvious reasons, they weren't looking for a briefcase yeah, you see where I'm coming from. Be patient, I'm getting to it. Anyway, the delight from that scene is to watch Dieudonné's fantastic performance as he portrays a veteran killer who explains the ropes to the newcomer making his bones in his first 'deadly' mission but don't take it as a spoiler, a lot of people die in the film.
Marchand is as confident and cynical as a fan of the underground-gangster movie genre would love, he's intimidating without trying too hard, much more he's competent in his job and succeeds to make it look like an ordinary 9 to 5 occupation. Well, time to cut off the suspense, anyone with the required level of cinematic knowledge would guess from which film the director Jean-Paul Lillenfeld took his inspiration, but which aspiring film-maker didn't in the late 90's and early 2000's. "Hors Service" is perhaps the most blatant case of Frenchisation of Tarantino's landmark "Pulp Fiction", tone and style, and the beginning was doomed to suffer from the inevitable comparison.
The point is that it doesn't affect much the quality of the film, which is quite uneven, as I said for other movies, you know it's not a good thing when one of the best scenes comes right in the beginning. I must concede though that in 70% of the time, it's pure writing gold, the first scene is well-written, many interactions between Marchand's colleagues are hilarious, especially when they argue about the most incongruous stuff such as pastry, a TV series or a lousy Tamagoshi. The characterization is well-done and this is a credit to the wonderful performances of François Berland as Francis' whipping dog of Francis is the leader, played like a suave and distinguished James Bond villain by Lambert Wilson.
The film had all the ingredients, and had probably a higher motivation than being a Tarantino ersatz. I guess the plot is the problem, despite all the black comedy stuff, it's a bit timid when you compare it to another masterpiece of the same genre: "Man Bites Dog", which also featured men entering at people's houses to kill them, but Jean-Paul Lillenfeld (to name him) let the connection of "Pulp Fiction" too obvious for a plot that asked for a darkness on the same vein than "Dog". It starts when Marchand's wife tells him that she knows the truth about his job, all right, he admits he's not a shoes' salesman (priceless gag, by the way) she gets hysterical, but he 'retorts' to one slap too many by knocking her out.
Bad luck, she can't wake up, double bad luck, she was after all these years of expectancy- pregnant, and last but not least whenever he becomes violent, she has a reaction that threatens her health, which leads to the conclusion that he must retire (hence the title), which means that he knows too many secrets, that his 'friends' will come at him and he must get rid of his colleagues, but not with his own means, his redemption echoes Jules' in "Pulp Fiction" but it comes too early, Marchand becomes a good guy too quickly, while we wanted to see him more in action, well I wanted it at least and the woman he's finally spared was so dumb looking I wondered if he wasn't tempted to kill her.
The plot is thin despite some good dialogs and a few great gags, which, along with the actors' performances, save the film. Another flaw is the overuse of 'techno' music that are totally unnecessary, and even distracting at times while a rather bucolic theme and more restrained directing could have created a more interesting contrast. But "HS" is a fan's film, and a first feature film, as an aspiring film-maker myself, I understand this tendency we have to emulate our idols, but sometimes, a movie should try to exist on its own and to provide something more memorable. All the critics compared the film to "Pulp Fiction", a pity because despite the first scene, the film gets more and more independent, style and tone again.
And naturally, I can't conclude the review without regretting all the controversy that lead Dieudonné to be be blacklisted by Cinema's establishment, his acting talent has never been equaled by an humorist, and it surely is a great loss for French cinema but maybe French cinema didn't deserve him, after all.
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