Astérix et Obélix: Mission Cléopatre
(France - 2002)
Starring: Christian Clavier, Gérard Depardieu, Jamel Debbouze, Gérard Darmon, Monica Bellucci
Plot: Two Gauls, a Druid, and their magic potion are called upon to help an Egyptian architect who is under orders from Cleopatra to build the most magnificent palace for Caesar (a "Caesar Palace") in only three months.
Let me start by saying that Astérix et Obélix: Mission Cléopatre is simply some of the most fun I've had in ages.
It's a rare event that a sequel surpasses the original, but Mission Cléopatre manages to one-up its predecessor in every single aspect. This is a much more impressive, giddy, and joyful production than the first live-version film, Astérix et Obélix Contre César.
With the biggest budget ever seen for a French film, the film is epic in proportions featuring a lavish production with fabulous sets, grand deployments, and superb decors and costumes. This is a comedy that competes directly with the best of the Hollywood extravaganzas and comes out a winner.
The script is anachronistic to the extreme, inserting modern-day habits, slang and social mores into the proceedings, and jumbling Egyptians, Romans with high-seas pirates (a recurring gag), all to better the humorous effect, and all to great success. It's also full of witty dialogue, puns, verbal acrobatics, visual gags, sly winks, exaggerated slapstick, double meanings, and a constant tongue-in-cheek humor spoofing many things from old Hollywood epics like Cleopatra to 70's Bruce Lee kung fu flicks and modern The Matrix knock-offs. Heck , there are so many details that it's necessary to see it more than once!
It's not perfect, and nit-pickers will find some faults here and there, with a few spots where the pacing isn't quite even and one scene in particular dragging on past its welcome, but these minor quibbles aside, it nears perfection as an adaptation of the classic French "bande dessinée" (comic strip) "Astérix et Cléopatre" from Goscinny and Uderzo while adding a flavor all its own.
Director Chabat (who also plays Caesar in the film) proves to be quite adept at making the various elements gel into a cohesive and amusing whole, while every shot shows a respect for the original works, always staying loyal to the text, the spirit and the look of the source material. He is definitely helped by a fine cinematographer and a dazzling use of special effects to recreate the cartoon world, going so far as even using the occasional animated sequence to recapture the book's flavor.
The characters are charming and sympathetic and the terrific star cast seems to be having fun, doing a great job in getting into their characters' skins, including Dépardieu as the dim-witted but large and powerful Obélix, the beautiful Monica Belucci as Cleopatra and a frenetic, hilarious Debbouze as the pathetic architect.
It's unfortunate for North American audiences that much of the finesse of the film which comes from the word plays in French might be lost in the English translation, but thankfully there's so much more to the film that will definitely cross over.
Those who already know the original book will delight in seeing their greatest adventure on the big screen; for those who don't, this is a magnificent way to discover them.
Filled to the brim with action, romance, grand adventure, and more laughs and smarts than any two-pack of other so-called comedies with unexpected surprises and moments that'll make you burst out laughing, and continue smiling from beginning to end, Mission Cléopatre is simply terrific entertainment.
Entertainment / Comedy: 9/10
Don't forget to check out the Video Review Library page for older reviews!