FILM REVIEW: Untouchable (15)

Loosely based on a true story, Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache’s crowd-pleasing comedy has smashed box office records in France and charmed audiences around Europe.

An English-language remake, reportedly starring Colin Firth with director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) at the helm, is already in the works, attesting to the film’s potential as a dark horse at next year’s Oscars.

Dubbed by some wags as Driving Monsieur Daisy, this feel-good confection centres on the culture clash between a wealthy white aristocrat and a street-smart Senegalese ex-con.

Untouchable boasts some uproarious interludes, including a badly behaved night at the opera, and Toledano and Nakache’s film is anchored by a stellar performance from Omar Sy as the jailbird, who teaches his stuffy employer to loosen up by trading Vivaldi for Earth, Wind & Fire.

However, for all its endearing qualities - and there are many - the picture trades heavily in racial stereotypes and when the laughter subsides, you’re left to contemplate whether the writer-directors are guilty of crude insensitivity or flagrant racism.

I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt; others will be less charitable and forgiving.

Philippe (Francois Cluzet) is a wealthy aristocrat who suffers terrible injuries in a paragliding accident.

He roams his sprawling Parisian mansion in a wheelchair and requires constant care to accomplish everyday tasks.

In an opening montage, a series of eminently qualified carers apply for a position in Philippe’s household but he is unmoved by their glib answers.

Uncouth ex-con Driss (Omar Sy), who has only applied for the job to get a signature on his benefits card, is a breath of fresh air.

He flirts outrageously with Philippe’s prim secretary, Magalie (Audrey Fleurot), and dares to steal a Faberge egg from the hallway.

Attracted to Driss’s complete lack of pity, Philippe hires the most unlikely candidate as his live-in carer.

The former jailbird takes up residence in an opulent guest room and quickly clashes with personal assistant Yvonne (Anne Le Ny).

“I bet you won’t last two weeks,” she predicts.

Against the odds, Driss forges a tender bond across the class divide, helping Philippe to teach his brattish daughter Elisa (Alba Gaia Kraghede Bellugi) some manners and to re-connect with the outside world.

Untouchable rests heavily on the shoulders of Cluzet and Sy, whose winning screen chemistry atones for the script’s occasional crassness.

They share some lovely scenes.

By contrast, the relationship between Driss, his beleaguered mother and younger brother, who is running in the wrong circles, is thinly sketched.

Nakache and Toledano’s buddy comedy provides lots of small emotional peaks, but at the very moment you expect Untouchable to deliver a big wallop, the film opts for a smaller payoff.

The reluctance to indulge in shameless sentimentality, which distinguishes the film, also diminishes it.

By Damon Smith

:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: NO VIOLENCE :: RATING: 7/10

Released: September 21 (London); September 28 (UK & Ireland), 112 mins