While exploring an ancient Egyptian tomb in the year 1911, the beautiful and resourceful journalist and adventurer, Adele Blanc-Sec (Louise Bourgoin) narrowly escapes an explosive trap lain by her archenemy, Professor Dieulevault (Mathieu Amalric - almost unrecognisable behind crooked teeth and dark glasses) by riding the river rapids inside a sarcophagus belonging to the mummy, Patmosis. Back in Paris, Adele aims to enlist the aid of grizzled psychic Professor Esperandieu (Jacky Nercessian) and reanimate Patmosis in the hope his physician's skills can revive her twin sister, Agathe (Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre) who has been comatose since a tennis accident a few years ago. An accident for which Adele feels greatly responsible. However, Esperandieu has been practicing his psychic skills by reviving a prehistoric pterodactyl from the French national museum. The flying dinosaur runs amuck, inadvertently crashing a car carrying the prefect of Paris into the Seine river, then terrorising the entire city.
Created by writer-artist Jacques Tardi, the sardonic and feisty Adele Blanc-Sec first appeared in the 1976 graphic novel Adele et la Bete (Adele and the Beast), followed by sporadic adventures that continue to this day. Part inspired by real-life writer George Sand, Tardi crafted a striking feminist heroine while his often ingenious stories have a unique flavour due to their delightfully dry humour and quirky period detail. Now Adele has been brought to the big screen by visionary writer-producer-director Luc Besson, in a film some describe as Amelie (2001) meets Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), complete with kooky narration.
In some ways Besson's film has been fatally misrepresented in the press given it is not really an action movie, more an eccentric historical comedy-drama. The story does not proceed in the way some viewers may expect, i.e. the tracking of the monster and the mad genius behind it. Things head in an altogether more offbeat and humane direction as Adele endeavours to rescue both the wrongfully persecuted Esperandieu and the creature that acts out of instinct, not malice. Her efforts are hindered by plodding Inspector Caponi (Gilles Lellouche) and Justin de Saint-Hubert (Jean-Paul Rouve), the dim-witted, egocentric big game hunter hired to slay the beast. However, Adele does finally revive her mummy - one of the most memorable characters in the comic, brought winningly to life as a goofy CGI creation with impeccable manners. Lookout for the charming scene involving a museum full of delightfully wry Egyptian mummies, wherein Adele gives the pharaoh Ramses a stern telling off.
Less pacy than Besson movies of old, the wandering plot, while fine for a labyrinthine graphic novel, should be more focused in a movie and loses its spark whenever our vivacious heroine is off screen. Nevertheless it has a wit and panache too often absent from mainstream blockbusters with gags that consistently amuse. Sumptuous production design brings the glorious Belle Epoque period vividly to life, but by far the film's greatest asset is the adorable Louise Bourgoin. She ably incarnates the gutsy and charming Adele Blanc-Sec, always two steps ahead of the clueless French establishment, ready with a dry quip for every situation, and donning some memorable disguises. On the strength of her Cesar nominated performance, the former Canal Plus weathergirl deserves to become an international star. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec ends on a neat cliff-hanger anticipating a sequel which, given the film's mixed reception, may not happen. Regular Besson composer Eric Serra captures the tone of the period with a jaunty score including an infectious theme tune sung by Thomas Dutronc and star Louise Bourgoin.