Lucky Luke (Jean Dujardin) has a troubled past stemming from his parents' encounter with the gang which killed them before his horrified eyes when he was a little boy. Ever since then, he vowed never to take a life - but also to defend the oppressed and downtrodden wherever he found them, which currently includes those peace-loving denizens of Daisy Town, who are far outnumbered by the lawbreakers. Luke is called to a meeting with the President and heads of the railroad company who tell him they plan to build the New York to San Francisco line straight through the place, and even then he's not happy to hear it...
Lucky Luke was the comic book character created by Belgian "Morris", a cartoonist who in his golden age of the character worked closely with Asterix creator René Goscinny to make this one of the most popular comic books on Continental Europe for decades. It was a good natured spoof of the Western genre, and had been brought to the screen before, most successfully in animated form, though Terence Hill played the role in the nineties to much grumbling from the original's fans. Mind you, those grumbles continued with the 2009 version here, with the diehards complaining they had taken the names but not the spirit or even the plots of their beloved source.
But for those who were not so bothered about that, you could see why with the success of the equally loosely adapted live action Asterix movies the producers thought it a good idea to bring Luke back, and starring Dujardin, who previous to the Oscar for The Artist was a famous comedian in France with a couple of other spoofs of a famous French character under his belt, the OSS 117 comedies. And if the lack of faith to the books didn't get to you, there was always something to catch your attention for this film looked absolutely terrific, with vast landscapes stretching for miles, gleaming colours, elaborate and intricately detailed sets and costumes, and generally a lot of thought obviously having gone into making the appearance pristine.
The trouble was, for the humour side of things it was not quite so accomplished, as only a few of the jokes raised a laugh - not because the other jokes were poor, but because for a comedy there were not so many gags in the first place. Indeed, for long stretches you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a serious, if grandiosely conceived, Western, as Luke undergoes a crisis when he believes he has given up his lifelong vow and actually killed the villain Pat Poker (Daniel Prévost) in a duel, having been driven to it by exceptional circumstances rather than something he regarded lightly. Being the supposed sheriff of Daisy Town, Luke throws away his badge giving Billy the Kid (Michaël Youn), Calamity Jane (Sylvie Testud) and Jesse James (Melvil Poupaud) the town on a plate.
It's more complicated still when love enters our hero's life, with Belle (Alexandra Lamy), a showgirl and aspiring star of the stage, at first distracting him pre-duel, then becoming his romantic partner, which would be all very well if this were not intended to make you laugh. True, there were parts of this which were funny (Luke and Belle rolling about in an embrace only for her to squash a snail with her forehead, for example), but more often where a goofier tone overall would have helped, the lawman was struggling with his conscience, his past, or his present when he discovers who has been double-crossing him. Yet for all the uncertain tone of the script, there were always those visuals to fall back on, convincingly updating the traditional Western imagery (actually filmed in Argentina) and at points spectacularly well. Odd that a French film should do this; the closest the United States got to it was another oddball effort, Rango, around the same time. Music by Bruno Coulais, and if you read French, pay close attention to the credits.