The bungling inspector Cruchot (Funès) finds himself trying to save the residents of St. Tropez from some oil-drinking humanoid aliens. The only way to tell the aliens from the real people, besides their constant thirst for oil-products, is that they sound like empty garbage cans when you touch them. Chaos is ahead.Written by
Not that bad, but the lousiness of some gags is even more unbelievable than the sci-fi plot...
Probably tired of unsuccessful invasions and infiltrations of Earth via the United States, our good old aliens (aboard their not-so-unidentifiable flying saucers) think they'll have a better shot with Saint Tropez; they just didn't count on our valiant defenders of bikini-clad widows and playing-with-sand orphans; the Extra-terrestrials are coming and the Troop is back!
Still, the decade it took for that fifth installment to be released feels like a real change of era that affected all the cast... and not just in the looks department. In 1979, the baby-boomers who twisted in Saint-Tropez were adults whose preoccupation were rooted in reality and oil prices, so I'm not sure watching a frail old Funès dressed as a nun and making faces not to be recognized was the proper cure for laughs. That 'Salve Regina' sounds rather like the swan song of the agonizing old school of French comedy.
But courageously, director Jean Girault and screenwriter Jacques Wilfrid stick to their guns, and all the actors are certainly more heroic than their fictional counterparts in the way they indulge to the same shticks over and over without fearing to look ridicule. But there are signs that can't fool us, the most visible ones are the replacements of Christian Marin and Jean Lefebvre by similarly looking substitutes Maurice Risch (short but chubbier) and Jean-Pierre Rambal (tall but less goofy). It's quite symbolic that Merlot and Fougasse were the two who welcomed Cruchot at his arrival and quite sad that "no one notices" their absence.
To their defense, they don't hurt the film and Maurice Risch, a regular De Funès' partner who's been labeled as a poor man's "Jacques Villeret" given the obvious resemblance, dis fit to the role. The real issue is with the replacement of Claude Gensac as Cruchot's wife by Maria Mauban. Gensac was unavailable so Mauban did her best with a second-rate script that overloads de Funès' dialogues with many "my doe" (ma biche!) in case we forgot who she was.
So "The Troops and the Extra-Terrestrials" has many new faces and the "old" ones have aged too much, aging even contaminated the writing because it's dated even by the 70s standards. In other words, the first act was a disaster starting with Beaupied (Risch) discovering a flying saucer and going all bananas about it. Granted there is no De Funès movie without a fair deal of hysteria, here the joke is used ad nauseam, with media-circus, brand-dropping, neologisms and verbalisms so embarrassing you just wish the plot can move to somewhere else.
I tried to watch it with the benevolence of a parent who sees his child and knows a Laurence Olivier he'll never be, but seeing all these talented actors clowning around and trying to make us believe that stabbing someone's butt by mistake is funny... with the summit of bad taste in that shot on the Colonel's bleeding pants. The craze goes on and then it starts to loosen up and even gets better near the middle. I often criticized some De Funès' movies to start very well and then getting slower or rushed out at the end, this is the opposite case, and I only wish the warm-up wasn't so long because it could have redeemed the film.
Which takes me back to that summer of 1989 where as a kid, I discovered De Funès through a TV cycle dedicated to the Troops series. If my memories don't fail me, it was one of the first I saw and I didn't take it as a comedy. The sight and sound of the aliens, the ominous music, the rusty sound they made and even that 'bong' when you knocked their body used to give me the creeps. Besides, I never liked plots were identities were reversed for all the misunderstandings they induced. I guess I took that film too seriously but strangely enough, there were a few scenes that I still appreciated for their 'serious' undertones.
There's a moment for instance where Galabru is alone in civilian clothes and follows an alien who'd just been splashed by water and is dying, his body makes mechanical noises, his dislocation is showed like a real agony and his death is symbolized by the fading sound of his tune watch, and there's no moment where Galabru plays it comical. He's alone in the beach of St Tropez like Charlton Heston in "Planet of the Apes" and the whole scene plays like something that could have come from straight sci-fi. It was quite powerful.
The following scene is one of these outbursts of comedic genius you find even in the worse De Funès when they all knock their heads and they make metallic sounds only with a different tone, though it had me confused as hell when I was younger (I didn't get the joke), the punchline of can belong to one of the Top 10 gendarmes moments. I guess that's the magic of the series, after all, each one has something to offer for the legacy.
And it's weird that De Funès, the actor known for straight comedies would play for his final six roles (following his heart attack) in two memorable sci-fi films both involving the classic flying saucers. The sci-fi element is handled pretty well, I especially like the effort Raymond Lefebvre took to put electronic sound in his work, and special effects that can seem a bit B-moviesque compared to "Star Wars" but they hold up well, honorable mention to the part when the Troops fought against their lookalikes and I was wondering how they would pull it. Naturally, they went the easy way, who said they had to fight their counterpart after all?
Now, I'm not sure the climax inside the flying saucer was necessary, with the final parade and the Troops making their obligatory march, there was an opportunity for a great last gag à la "Breast of Leg?", that would have earned the film an extra point.
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