French actor Omar Sy is having a moment, and it’s been a long time coming. Even since his breakout role in the critical hit The Intouchables, Sy has spent the last decade bouncing between minor supporting roles in American blockbusters (X-Men: Days of Future Past and Jurassic World) and providing French overdubs for animated films (The Angry Birds Movie and Soul). He did find success in his native France, starring in the crime film On the Other Side of the Tracks. But it wasn’t until his lead part as the irresistible, titular gentleman thief in the Netflix heist series Lupin that he found a second wave.
Now he’s riding that crest as a similarly charming character in a sequel to On the Other Side of the Tracks, the Louis Leterrier-directed buddy-cop movie The Takedown. In this film, Leterrier’s first French-language feature, Sy returns as Captain Ousmane Diakhité, a rising star in the Parisian police force who gains greater notoriety after he busts an MMA fight, taking down a brawny pugilist in the process, and video of the action goes viral.
His crime-solving skills are tested, however, when a decapitated torso mysteriously appears on a train. It’s discovered by Diakhité’s vain former partner, François Monge (Laurent Lafitte). In spite of François’s rich cologne and tailored clothes, he’s just a regular officer relegated to a precinct after several attempts to apply for a promotion. He sees this case as his big break, and he teams with Diakhité to venture into a racist French enclave to solve the murder.
As a director, Leterrier knows how to have fun. He’s proven his flair for intricate set-pieces in the manic magic heist movie Now You See Me and the martial-arts action movie Unleashed, which has Jet Li as an enforcer raised as a human attack dog. Leterrier blitzes his compositions with dynamic oranges, reds, and blues, giving his action a far more playful palette than the grunge-bleak aesthetics of modern action movies like The Adam Project or The 355. (Leterrier recently replaced Justin Lin as the director of the Fast & Furious franchise installment Fast X.)
The actors provide a spark, too. Sy and Lafitte share a good give-and-go spirit, with their characters trading barbs about their respective love lives and career successes. Those jokes find further laughs as the narrative develops. In a small town, Ousmane and François team up with local cop Alice (French rock star Izïa Higelin), who’s a bit of a blank slate as a prototypical love interest with very little personality. She barely draws any attention in comparison to flamboyant ladies’ man François and the bewitching Ousmane. Still, the trio mine gags as Ousmane and François compete to prove who’s the better detective.
Sometimes The Takedown seems to be enjoying itself too much. A pursuit for a suspect through a laser-tag maze devolves into a go-kart chase through a shopping mall, all of which consumes far too much time. Likewise, a final race in an orange Jeep, over hill and dale and between mountain passes, loses a morsel of fun with every tedious turn. Somewhere in the two-hour run time is a tight, thrilling 90 minutes. But too much fat suffocates the potential.
The excess run time particularly makes little sense in a film with so few narrative surprises. We know who the bad guy is and what mole will betray Ousmane and François early on in the movie, which leaves Sy and Lafitte to keep the proceedings revved up anyway. Thankfully, Sy in particular can handle the load. Even as the script relies on tawdry, underdeveloped gay-panic jokes, his affable and innocent persona delivers these unsteady beats with aplomb. And his physicality, as at home in bruising fight sequences as he is in light flirtations with Izïa, raises the question of what kind of James Bond he’d be, if the thought of a French actor playing the English spy wouldn’t make Brits queasy.
The primary surprises in The Takedown come from the way such a jovial adventure trades in heavy political themes. Ousmane contends with tokenism within the Parisian police department as they try to make him a recruitment tool. For laughs, François laments over how hard it is for a rich, white male to succeed in this world.
Stéphane Kazandjian’s script is often too simplistic to make those racial themes land effectively. The town’s villainous white fascist mayor (Dimitri Storoge) is totemic of the other real-life populist governments sweeping across Europe. In lieu of stronger screenwriting, Storoge plays the mayor broadly as a vile man with terrible intentions — in particular, he wants to rid France of non-white refugees. That goal, while sickening, doesn’t add a particularly palpable sinister edge to the story. Instead, this mayor is a dull, anticlimactic adversary. If more thought was dedicated to these themes, perhaps they’d discover their intended gravity.
In spite of a few more red herrings and the lack of suspense, Sy and Lafitte still carry the day. They give the story a kinetic energy and a loose rhythm, which makes the narrative’s meandering more palatable, even as it fails to break out of the familiar action-flick mold. If you’re missing the days when this kind of broad action crime story had colorful visions and lovable leads, The Takedown might provide a temporary fix.
The Takedown is streaming on Netflix now.