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Atomik Circus: The Return of James Battle

French, 2004

Directed by Didier Poiraud, Thierry Poiraud


Starring: Vanessa Paradis, Jason Flemyng, Benoit Poelvoorde, Jean-Pierre Marielle

92 minutes

Reviewed by Jeremy Silman

Rating (a 1 – 6 scale): 2.5


I was really looking forward to this French film. It was billed as an oddity that started as comedy and ended in a whole community being mercilessly slaughtered by tentacled aliens. I couldn’t wait. When it comes to aliens slaughtering humans, I’m all for it! No boring Euro-drama here. This kind of flick seemed made for the classic drive-in theaters of yesteryear.



Starring Johnny Depp’s paramour, Vanessa Paradis (a famous French singer and model), it sounded like fun for all, so I prepared a mountain of popcorn, readied my thumbs in the down position (for those final death scenes), and settled into my patented movie-watching position.

If you’ve ever driven through the pristine French countryside, you know how picturesque it all is. Thus, I think I can be forgiven for suspecting that I’d fired up the wrong movie when the countryside seemed right out of a bayou postcard, and the actors seemed more like Boss Hogg and his cronies then elitist Frenchmen. Yes, they were speaking French (with no Southern twang at all), but everyone in the town would have fit in nicely at a Dukes of Hazzard reunion.

Okay, I hadn’t seen that coming, but once the sense of displacement wore off, I found the whole thing mildly entertaining. What made the first part of the film laugh out loud funny, though, was not much-too-skinny (and shockingly uninteresting) Paradis, or the imbecilic motorbike cops, or the (very) poor man’s Bruce Campbell (Jason Flemyng as James Battle). No, the real star of the show was a small dog that needed just one insane smirk to render me helpless on the floor. It took a while to recover from the canine broadside, but another glance from its "bake Silman’s brain” eyes once again blasted me into near coma.



It was at this point – when I wanted the actors to vanish and the dog to take center stage – that the aliens descended on the screen and ruined the whole movie. Yes, they ripped countless human heads off for the final 20 minutes, but there was no rhyme or reason for their actions, and the death-scenes became repetitious and uninteresting. I kept watching, of course. Perhaps the dog would save the world, and I didn’t want to miss it. Sadly, the director didn’t recognize the furry gold in his grasp, and the dog wasn’t used again.



In the end, the "French of Hazzard” almost pulled it off. But the very thing that I had looked forward to (i.e. the alien devastation) became the film’s curse.

If you are looking for a good "alien creatures kill people” movie, take a look at the very well done Pitch Black. If you want a comedy with a troubling, distasteful end, tune into C-Span and watch a session of Congress. And if you’re after a Boss Hogg wannabe, listen to a speech by any Republican presidential candidate.