out of Five
Running time: 109
The Players has its moments but even the combined charm of Jean Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche isn't quite enough to save this largely unfunny, deeply misogynistic and occasionally embarrassingly poor taste comedy.
What's it all about?
Directed by a series of respected French directors (including Michel Hazanavicius, Fred Cavaye, Emmanuelle Bercot and Eric Lartigau), The Players (Les Infidèles, original title fans) is a collection of sketches and short films on the theme of male infidelity, working on the assumption that all (French) men are unfaithful as a matter of course (no argument is presented to the contrary). The film is book-ended with the adventures of serial cheaters Fred (Jean Dujardin) and Greg (Gilles Lellouche), who decide to take a trip to Vegas and idly discuss whether their rampant tandem skirt-chasing masks secret homosexual desire for each other.
The two leads also star in the other shorts too, the best of which is The Artist director Michel Hazanavicius' segment, starring Dujardin as an awkward loser trying to get laid at a business conference weekend. The other segments include: one about an Adulterers Anonymous self-help group (chaired by the ubiquitous Sandrine Kiberlain); a sketch about an embarrassing revelation in the emergency room; a film about an older man (Lellouche) trying to keep up with his 19 year old mistress (Clara Ponsot); and a film about a couple (Jean Dujardin and his real-life wife Alexandra Lamy) whose we-can-handle-it extra-marital confession sessions spiral out of control.
Dujardin and Lellouche (clearly best friends off screen as well as on) are undeniably charming actors and their twinkly-eyed performances come very close to excusing some of the material on display; Dujardin is particularly good in the least offensive and best written of the shorts, even if the shots of him frantically masturbating (shot, bare-arse, from behind) might come as a bit of a shock to anyone flocking to this film on the back of his performance in The Artist.
Aside from the appalling misogyny throughout the film (okay, so that's the point, but this goes above and beyond in that regard), the main problem is that it simply isn't as funny as it thinks it is, unless Dujardin shouting “I'm touching liver here,” during a sexual encounter is your idea of a laugh riot. Similarly, the writing feels lazy on the majority of the films, while the central assumption is borderline insulting and never explored in any actual depth.
That said, the film does at least take advantage of its propensity for bad taste to deliver a jaw-dropping and genuinely risqué punchline to one of its stories, a moment that certainly wouldn't make it into any prospective American remake (Dieu forbid).
Despite decent performances from Dujardin and Lellouche, The Players is something of a disappointment, thanks to lazy writing, a badly conceived central premise and a general lack of laughs.