Quentin (Gérard Depardieu) is a petty thief who this day has decided to rob a bureau de change only to find that all they have to offer him is yen rather than French euros. Confounded by this turn of events, he asks them if they know of a bank around here and they reply that there's one down the street, so Quentin heads off in that direction, robs the bank, and then discovers that the police have been called and are waiting for him. He winds up in a cinema watching Ice Age, where the cops easily catch him, and is sent to prison. But finding a cellmate for this loquacious fool is going to be a problem...
If you've seen a Francis Veber film before, then you'd know what to expect with Shut Up!, or Tais-toi! as it was called in its native France. Get a couple of well respected leading men and pit their characters against each other in a situation where one proves a test of the other's patience was how it usually went, the template having been laid down in his hit L'Emmerdeur project back in the seventies. This was no exception, and the leading men were two of the best France had to offer, with Depardieu teamed with Jean Reno, who played Ruby, a hitman who is the strong, silent type in contrast to Quentin, who natters about the first thing that pops into his head.
This quality of finding something to say, at great length, when there's nothing really to talk about proves the undoing of anyone unlucky enough to share a cell with him, as time and again he will irritate his cellmate so much that they fling themselves at him. This results in the supremely strong Quentin getting the better of them in the ensuing tussle and sending them to the infirmary. You would have thought that he was the ideal candidate for solitary confinement, and he probably is, except that Ruby has just been arrested after stealing a huge amount of cash from gang boss Vogel (Jean-Pierre Malo).
Ruby did this in revenge for Vogel killing his girlfriend, but has landed himself in prison in the process, refusing to say a word to anyone about where the money is. The inspector on the case, Vernet (Richard Berry) has a brainwave: put Quentin in the same cell and Ruby will crack sooner rather than later, and although he continues saying nothing, he does find his new companion too much and stages a suicide attempt to get away. If that sounds a bit grim, then rest assured while there may be a harder edge to this than you might have anticipated, the goofy presence of Depardieu manages to smooth down any bumps in what is essentially a daffy buddy movie.
One thing leads to another, and soon Ruby and Quentin have escaped together, with Quentin swearing his allegiance to the pal who doesn't want him around, but having been injured cannot get along without him for the moment. Naturally these two old pros are very capable in roles such as these, with Depardieu's inane cheer and Reno's longsuffering stoicism a perfect match as they get into such ridiculous predicaments as having to don women's clothes as a replacement for their mental institution pajamas when the house they break into turns out to belong to a tiny jockey and his far taller wife. As a thriller, it's pretty middling stuff, but as a character comedy it's more successful, even if it's never quite as touching as Veber seems to be setting out to make it. That said, there are enough good laughs, with a couple of genuinely hilarious bits, to be worth your while, especially if you like these two stars (and who doesn't?). Music by Marco Prince.