With Hollywood’s grand history of legendary comedians and works of groundbreaking comedy, one would think that US cinema would be the one to import their classics to France for remakes. The opposite is actually true: Hollywood has a long tradition of adapting French comedies Stateside. Which isn’t all that surprising; plenty of French comedies with farcical premises, full of ample opportunities for shenanigans, perfectly apply to Hollywood’s funny superstars, fodder for American romps.
, a remake of the 2011 French megahit The Intouchables, hit theaters this past January, and was also a hit (though much humbler) for a relatively small studio. So there’s no better time to take a dive into some of the best and worst that this special relationship between the two countries has to offer. Grab your baguettes and whatever cliches come to the mind of a willfully ignorant American who’s never been to France, because here are the five worst and five best American remakes of French comedies.
5. Dinner for Schmucks (2010)
The Dinner Game (1998)
Writer/director Francis Veber is a staple of French comedies remade in Hollywood. He adapted La Cage aux Folles to the screen, and also directed the original versions of The Toy, Fathers’ Day and Three Fugitives (he directed that remake as well). The Dinner Game, his 1998 satire about a snooty publisher (Thierry Lhermitte) participating in the cruel workplace tradition of inviting an “idiot” (Jacques Villeret) to dinner solely to make fun of them, is no masterpiece. The narrative is unfocused at times, and Veber certainly takes advantage of the idiot character’s likable buffoonery to extract some chuckles. Yet, the scorn of the piece is reserved for the cruel publisher, whose arc in eventually relating more to the idiot than to his co-workers is the thematic point of the piece. The 2010 remake by Jay Roach completely shits the bed in that sense by making two disastrous casting choices. First, the cruel straight man is played by the immediately huggable Paul Rudd, whose ambitious executive is conflicted about the decision to make fun of his idiot (Steve Carell) from the start, sucking out all tension from the story. More egregiously, Carell’s character, along with other idiots played by otherwise talented comedians like Zach Galifianakis and Jemaine Clement, comes across as a cloying caricature from the reject pile of the worst SNL seasons. Since it’s impossible to relate to the idiots in the remake, we take the side of the evil businessmen.
4. Fathers’ Day (1997)
The ComDads (1983)
Francis Veber is back, writing and directing the forgettably cute dramedy The ComDads, about two men (Pierre Richard and Gerard Depardieu) who find out that one of them is the father of a son they didn’t know they might have, and try to get to the bottom of that understandably confusing situation. The film works thanks to the clear dynamic between François (Richard), the eccentric goofball, and Jean (Depardieu), the uptight businessman. In the 1997 remake Fathers’ Day, director Ivan Reitman decides to give both parts to two of the most energetic improvisational comedians of their time, Billy Crystal and Robin Williams. Now both characters represent the comic relief, trying to one-up each other in every episodic, skit-like sequence, erasing the central dynamic of the original in the process. Reitman, too, over-relies on simply turning on the camera and letting Williams do an endless series of cartoonish voices. Already tired in 1997, Fathers’ Day is excruciating now (look only to Williams’ “hip hop” voice).
3. Oscar (1991)
The nightmare of the early ’90s “comedian” phase for Sylvester Stallone, in which the action star with a limited number of expressions in his arsenal suddenly got it in his head that he’s a funnyman, is what happens when you surround yourself with nothing but yes men and gave us the charisma void of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot the next year. Based on the 1967 comedy of errors of the same name, itself based on a play by Claude Magnier, Oscar saw Stallone as a mob boss trying desperately to find a man for his pregnant daughter (Marisa Tomei) while also attempting to go straight. The main character in the original was a businessman played by France’s comedy genius, Louis de Funes. De Funes is a master at mugging for the camera, and the film’s unapologetically farcical tone fits his sensibilities. In director John Landis’s version, the setting is moved to 1930s Chicago, where the dazzling cinematography pays appropriate nostalgic homage to old gangster films, and most of the cast, especially Tomei, are game. But the buck stops at Stallone, who only has a single gear as he imitates a log screaming at nothing while shitting gravel.
2. My Father the Hero (1994)
Mon père, ce héros. (1991)
Right down to its star, Mon père, ce héros. and My Father the Hero are almost pointlessly similar. The story of an uptight father (Gerard Depardieu) trying to come to grips with his teenage daughter’s (Marie Gillain) burgeoning sexuality during summer vacation doesn’t lend itself to a particularly successful comedy, but at least it stays afloat thanks to some clever set-pieces and fine chemistry between Depardieu and Gillain. The first mistake director Steve Miner makes with the remake is to cast Depardieu again. As versatile an actor as they come, Depardieu still struggles with landing the English dialogue that came so natural to him in French. Some awful pedophile jokes related to Depardieu’s character being French, and Katherine Heigl foreshadowing her future career as the expressionless, mannequin-like daughter, don’t help much in selling this god awful retread.
1. Taxi (2004)
The point of Taxi, Luc Besson’s first go at eventually defining a certain kind of Euro-action, was the unbelievably fast and reckless car chases accomplished using practical stunts. So when it came to producing the inevitable American version, of course the only sensible choice was to dial down the action, turning whatever chase sequences remained into a CGI-laden shitfest, and putting all the narrative chips into the non-existing chemistry between stars Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon. It gets worse: Director Tim Story somehow used his clout from helming this bomb into ruining Fantastic Four. Meanwhile, the original Taxi thrived into an ongoing series of increasingly over the top car chase blockbusters. The fifth installment was released in 2018.