Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Plein Vitesse ...

Now out on DVD is a French aerial-action flick packed with fast jets, quick tempered pilots and some trouser bloating totty. Many have compared ‘Les Chevaliers du ciel’ to the 1986 US box office blockbuster, Top Gun. Film fans bang on about ’this lax French copy’ - but it‘s not a copy, it’s a completely different film altogether. Different plot and different characters. It just happens to feature the French Air Force, whereas Top Gun was based on the US Navy.

In my honest opinion, ‘Les Chevs’ (it’s international title being Sky Fighters), is a very plausible film. If you ignore the totty-factor and their individual inter-woven story-lines, then the 97 minute film motors along quite happily. Then you discover that the director is one Gérard Pirès, the man responsible for delivering ‘Riders’ and >‘Double Zero’. For anyone who saw either of these stable-mates may recall British actor Bruce Payne’s fingernail scraping American accent in ‘Riders’ and then there was the farcical ‘Double Zero’ - a French spy comedy film. It was obvious that a large slice of the combined budgets went towards lunch.

‘Les Chevaliers du ciel’ has a fairly reasonable story: a new French fighter jet, the Mirage 2000 is hijacked on the tarmac at the Farnborough Airshow in the UK.

Two French fighter jets are sent to intercept the stolen aircraft as it flies towards the French coast. Our two heros are flying the interceptors, Benoît Magimel as Capt Antoine "Walk'n" Marchelli and his sidekick, Capt Sébastien "Fahrenheit" Vallois played by Clovis Cornillac. They end up in a multitude of trouble but go on to save the day when a naughty little inter-governmental plot is revealed.

Such is the advancement in filming technology and special effects in the 19 years since Top Gun was made, this particular flick contains some very impressive aerial sequences. What many fail to realise is that the flying sequences in Top Gun were mainly filmed from the ground, whereas in ‘Les Chevs’, it was mostly airborne. With 21st Century kit like the Spacecam and the Vectorvision Jet Camera, what you see is what actually happened. By strapping this new technology to the underbelly of another fighter jet, the aerial sequences have you in the Martin Baker seat of ejection happiness. A pod containing 4 cameras captured the forward, rear and side-to-side action, making for a fascinating insight into the sheer joy of punching your way through a cloud bank.

The film, naturally, has to have a love interest - or 3 - as in this case. Géraldine Pailhas plays Maelle Coste, the French Prime Minister’s defence advisor, Alice Taglioni plays fellow pilot Lt Estelle 'Pitbull' Kass and Rey Reyes (who she?) as “Stardust”, an American Air Force pilot on an exchange programme. I must say that Ms Reyes took a leaf out of ‘Riders’ by delivering a shockingly bad US accent and also managing to corner the market in pouting and posing. A character somewhat far fetched and unbelievable.

The inter-weaving sub plots keep you thinking and Fiona Curzon, a Paris-based English actress, makes an appearance as a certain Mrs Redgrave, a British arms dealer from Gibraltar. Sadly, she too seems to have been struck down with a case of the ‘awful accents’.

Overall, ‘Les Chevs’ seems to have lifted Gérard Pirès out of his funk and is well worth a viewing. So brush up on your French, open the taps and prepare for the rush of the afterburners.

Stu

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