Based on the long-running Lucky Luke comic by Belgian author Morris and French illustrator René Goscinny, the popular series had previously been filmed in animated and live action formats, including a TV series starring Terence Hill in the lead role (!) before director Philippe Haïm was seemingly picked from obscurity to direct the 2004 feature film.
Costing an estimated $27 million, the French-Spanish-German co-production co-stars French TV stars Ramzy Bedia and Eric Judor, who also co-wrote this extraordinarily unfunny screenplay. As the 43 min. making-of doc illustrates, everyone had great fun making the film - the cast and crew laughed, hugged & giggled, and director Haïm had to keep his mouth zipped to prevent spoiling a take - but right from the onset, no one bothered to fix the script's amazingly inept construction.
Granted the Dalton brothers headline the story, but it's a serious flaw to have Lucky Luke (played in largely monosyllable utterances and movements by a bored Til Schweiger) onscreen for less than 15 mins. in the entire film. As the chief bounty hunter who previously apprehended the wild 'west's most moronic bank robbers,' he makes a token appearance at their mother's home, and 'Yups' his way through an interrogation with Ma Dalton (nicely played by Marthe Villalonga) before disappearing for another long stretch.
The second blunder is the complete lack of any female characters; Ma Dalton pops up with vittles and shovel-embedded sausages, but this is an all-male romp with a fleeting Spanish table dancer. Even Who Framed Roger Rabbit had a few babes contrast to contrast and enliven ongoing male stupidity.
The third fatal fubar is the casting of Bedia and Judor who, in conjunction with actors Romain Berger and Saïd Serrari, form the brotherly quartet whose misadventures are supposed to pass as engagingly funny episodes that vary from puerile slapstick, outmoded ethnic assaults (the Chinese and Mexicans don't fare particularly well in the film), and cartoon violence that jarringly includes bullet-fed poultry, hurtled like Molotov cocktails at rival villain El Tarlo, and his magic sombrero.
(One clever sequence - perhaps a faithful scene taken from the original comics - has El Tarlo jauntily striding in front of stucco and adobe homes, while his red hat protects him from the mounting carnage of exploding walls, doors, wagons, and wayward bullets. The intro scene of the Dalton gang also starts off with promise as the lead bro menacingly asks the general store clerk for a ripe tomato, but everything that follows feels like third-rate slapstick.)
The film unsurprisingly concludes with the standard finale that all films lacking any plot employ for a quick closure: dragging all the cardboard characters into one location for a big knockdown, cheerfest, and quick end credit crawl
Director Haïm clearly felt he was creating moments of wit by following in the manic editing and exaggerated physical performances of Luc Besson's wan and tiresome Taxi sequels, but Haïm also makes unsuitable nods to more recent film culture quotations through the use of anachronistic music (Henry Mancini and a Latin pop vocal both rob film composer Alexandre Azaria of far too many prime scoring opportunities); the re-use of Morricone's "My Fault?" from My Name is Nobody (already parodied in The 'Burbs in a similar confrontation montage), and a direct nod to Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1, including the appropriation of RZA's famous funky theme music.
Les Dalton is a sumptuous production: the CGI effects are largely very clean, and cinematographer David Carretero composes sweeping visuals and rich compositions, enhanced by an effective comic book colour and set design in Chrystal's crisp-looking DVD. You're not supposed to take things seriously, but without any developed characters, odd elements such as Lucky Luke's talking horse, a big-nosed dog who addresses the camera and appears from nowhere, and Luke's ability to move faster than his independent-minded shadow and levitate just baffle audiences, some already offended - as some fan postings reveal - by the lousy translation of Morris' characters, or a rare few that are hypnotized as this train wreck just keeps moving along in its embarrassingly contrived universe.
Back in the thirties and forties, the Ritz Brothers were a sad attempt to rival the outrageous personas of the Marx Brothers, and years later it was Dennis Dugan's Brain Donors that managed to eclipse the comedic ineptitude of the Ritz trio - until Les Dalton pushed the sub-standard marker deeper into the compost.
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan