Opens Fri., June 7 at Oak Tree. Rated R. 102 minutes.
The French maintain their love for good old American crime stories, and you could easily imagine The Prey as a black-and-white Warner Brothers melodrama from the 1930s. A bank robber, Franck (Albert Dupontel), calmly awaits the end of his prison sentence, his treasure buried safely in a tomb. His wife asks about the money, but he’s evasive. Prison thugs try to beat the information out of him, but he’s too tough for them. Then, in a moment of weakness/compassion, he lets slip the loot’s location to a meek cellmate being released from jail. Big mistake. The bespectacled Jean-Louis (Stéphane Debac) is considerably more dangerous than he seems. He swiftly nabs Franck’s wife, daughter, and hidden cash. This means our hero has to bust out of jail and—pursued by the police—hunt down Jean-Louis. So far, so good.
Dupontel, who’s got a widow’s peak to rival Justin Theroux’s, doesn’t look like your conventional action hero. He’s better at conveying the prior “Should I throw myself out the window to escape the cops?” calculation than the shattering glass and drop to the top of a conveniently parked van on the street. (Why is there always a soft-topped van parked beneath such windows?) And while you could accept Jason Statham, no great actor, jumping from 1) overpass to railway-station awning, 2) railway-station awning to moving train, and 3) train to the ground below, that kind of urban parkour stuff works against The Prey’s plausibility. And Dupontel is nothing if not plausible in his grind-it-out endurance: Franck gets beaten, shot, and bloodied, but still trudges forward—like Bruce Willis with hair.
Rather less plausible is Alice Taglioni as Claire, who looks fresh off the catwalk as the police detective pursuing Franck. Her hassles and colleagues at the station house are way too familiar from countless prior cop flicks (her “feminine intuition” is regularly questioned). Claire acquires a few bruises during the chase, but neither she nor any character gains any depth along the way. For all the running Franck does, he can’t escape movie conventions. When he reaches a cliff, you can be sure there will be a cliffhanger.
My last hope for The Prey fell to Debac’s nerdy villain, but even he lets us down. We’ve become accustomed to super-brainy and -malign serial killers at the movies, like Hannibal Lecter or Kevin Spacey’s ghoul in Seven. Jean-Louis is amusingly prim and priggish, wearing his fanny pack in front (!) and a sweater crossed neatly over his shoulders, yet we never get a sense of his core deviancy or competence. Franck is good at taking a beating; by contrast, Jean-Louis doesn’t seem very good at his job. Director Eric Valette does his job properly by pushing The Prey swiftly through its 102 minutes, all of them routine.