“Indian magic is no holiday,” Jean Campana (Jean Reno) exclaims nearly midway into writer/director Francis Veber’s mirthless comedy, The Jaguar. And boy, it turns out that he wasn’t kidding. Veber, a master at unlikely buddy comedies and mistaken identities for more than three decades of filmmaking (including La Cage Aux Folles, La Chevre, Le Grand Blond Avec Une Chaussure Noire, and Les Compères) has provided endless fodder for American remakes (respectively The Birdcage, Pure Luck, The Man With One Red Shoe, and Father’s Day). Unfortunately, he misses the mark in his last action/comedy before he again found his footing with a string of popular hits such as The Dinner Game, The Closet, and The Valet (all of which have been subject to remake rumors and contracts).
It’s highly unlikely an American version of The Jaguar will ever see the light of day and frankly, director Veber would probably be the first one to admit that that’s for the best. While sitting down with IndieWire reporter Brandon Judell several years back to discuss The Closet, he admitted that not only did the film-- originally titled Le Jaguar-- fail to earn a stateside release but also he confessed that, “it was not very good.”
Sadly, that’s an understatement as this excruciatingly bizarre mixture of several half-baked plots combusts about thirty minutes into its roughly ninety-minute running time, making the last hour a test of one’s endurance to withstand indisputable trash of the highest order. Veber himself pinpointed the problem directly, arguing that, “when I try to make films that look like American films, they’re not interesting. I tried that. I tried to make an action movie, and we’re not gifted for that. You are better than us in that area.” By noting the cultural differences in filmmaking in France verses America, he does offer an ingenious hypothetical, saying that “if we could mix the systems, having this intellectual approach that the French have and having this entertaining obligation that the Americans have, the result would be the perfect movie.” While no doubt that would’ve helped The Jaguar immensely, Mr. Veber has plenty of perfect films on his resume to bounce back from, as does the film’s leading man Jean Reno. My admiration for these two men provided the two very reasons that I found myself ignoring Veber’s own warning and plunging headfirst into the action/comedy recently released on DVD by Koch Entertainment and SKD.
Obviously inspired by not only the Indiana Jones series but additionally Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile, Veber introduces us to a mysterious, elderly Indian shaman named Wanu (Harrison Lowe) currently on a PR humanitarian tour to save his beloved Amazon rainforest. Reno’s Campana who serves as Wanu’s assistant/babysitter/interpreter finds he’s in way over his head when Wanu take an inexplicable liking to a stranger they share a Parisian elevator with, Francois Perrin (Patrick Bruel).
One hundred thousand dollars in debt, the freeloading gambler Perrin tries to sweet talk an old flame into loaning him enough money to pay off the mobster loan sharks who have purchased his debt but instead of a check, he forms an unlikely friendship with Wanu who stows away on Perrin’s Jeep and follows him home. After phoning Campana to come pick up the shaman, Perrin sums up his bad luck with a classically penned Veber quip: “What a night. I go out for big bucks and come back with an old Indian.” Wanu, who feels a strange and intense spiritual bond with Perrin, quickly decides that although they don’t speak the same language, in the poker player he has encountered “The Chosen One.” And in the increasingly peculiar events that follow as Veber continually asks us to suspend our disbelief until finally the entire film is incomprehensible and unintentionally hilarious, the fatally ill Wanu depends on his strange new acquaintance to journey deep into the heart of the Amazon forest alongside Campana in order to rescue his “stolen soul.” By now, let's just say I was thinking that it's a damn shame that Mystery Science Theatre 3000 isn't still on the air.Of course, while Perrin mistakenly leaps at the chance to escape the mobsters, he soon realizes that life in the jungle is far more dangerous than any loan shark, once they venture into the strange land and deadly adventures ensue within the first hour of their arrival. Whether they’re trying to fight off the evil Kumare (Danny Trejo), whom Campana states is a man so evil that he’s a “disaster for the whole planet,” a.k.a. the suspect most likely to have hijacked Wanu’s soul, Veber further muddies up the ludicrous set-up by adding in the beautiful Patricia Velasquez as Perrin’s love interest Maya.
Yet no matter how much mayhem the characters find themselves in, we constantly realize it’s not just the heroes but our director who has completely lost the map as they meander from one ridiculous set-up to another illogical one, and all the while the audience wishes (no doubt as much as Veber, Reno and all involved) that he would’ve played his winning hand and dealt us a comedy of manners instead of a comedy of magic.
Transferred to disc in the original widescreen format with the ability to hear the original French language track (highly preferable) complete with English language subtitles or the redubbed English audio version where the voices sound far too similar, the only other feature available on the newly released DVD is trailers for other projects from the company.
And while, like me, all of the Veber and Reno fans out there will no doubt be tempted to give it a whirl, you’re better off following the talented writer/director’s advice and sticking with the action comedies of Spielberg and company if the mood strikes you or Veber’s own witty odes to wordplay as evidenced in one of his masterpieces such as The Dinner Game or The Closet.