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Thursday, June 17, 2010


This second (and arguably best) of the live-action films based on France's venerable ASTERIX comics series adapts one of the strip's most beloved story arcs, specifically the one where Gaulish warriors Asterix and Obelix journey to Egypt and meet Cleopatra (whose nose we are repeatedly informed is extremely pretty), and I'll be damned if it's not one of the most fun comics adaptations ever made.

The cover to the original printing of the excellent source comic.

Based on the graphic novel ASTERIX AND CLEOPATRA (1965), which itself was a spoof of the turgid and overblown Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton epic film CLEOPATRA (1963) and had previously been translated into a mediocre French animated feature in 1968, ASTERIX & OELIX: MISSION CLEOPATRA begins in 50 B.C. with Egyptian queen Cleopatra (played by the mouth-watering Monica Bellucci) pitching a fit as Julius Caesar declares Egypt to culturally be "so five centuries ago," and essentially the "armpit of the Roman empire. Cleopatra rebuts this with mention of Egyptian achievements like the pyramids and the Sphinx, and in her rage she declares that her people can still work such architectural wonders and will build Caesar a magnificent palace from scratch within the space of three months. If this impossible task is accomplished, Caesar will publicly admit that the Egyptians are the greatest people in the world, so the country's honor is at stake. Caesar takes his leave and Cleopatra assigns young architect Edifis to build the palace, and if he makes his deadline he will be showered with wealth beyond imagining, but if he fails he will end up as crocodile shit. Simultaneously, the royal architect, Arthritis (Gerard Damon), offers his services to his queen but is rejected because he's "too Rameses II," displaying an old-fashioned and conventional sensibility.

Arthritis (Gerard Damon) and Cleopatra (Monica Bellucci).

Greatly insulted at the thought of a young upstart usurping his role, Arthritis vows to do all in his power to sabotage Edifis' efforts, but let's face it, how the hell is Edifis going to complete a palace with the kind of opulence Egypt's structures were renowned for in three months? Remembering legends he'd heard of a Gaulish druid who knew the secrets of brewing a magic potion that grants men superhuman strength, Edifis makes his way to the village of Asterix and Obelix and begs the druid Getafix to lend him the potion to give his slaves the power to accomplish their impossible chore. Reluctant at first, Getafix is swayed by Edifis' sweet nature and the fact that the young man's father was a former colleague (a physician named Malpractis), so in no time the druid, with Asterix and Obelix — once more capably brought to life by Christian Clavier and Gerard Depardieu — as his bodyguards, is headed to Egypt to get the job done. But now, factoring in the time it took Edifis to get to Gaul and back, only two months remain in which to complete the project.

Our heroes: Asterix (Christian Clavier) and Obelix (Gerard Depardieu).

What follows involves the expected chicanery from the vengeful Arthritis (such as fomenting a worker's revolution among the slaves) but, as anyone who's ever read an Asterix story knows, our heroes inevitably come out on top after many close calls and an avalanche of silly humor and groan-inducing gags. Though adapted fairly faithfully from the forty-five-year-old comics template, the film seamlessly updates the proceedings to include the expected pop culture references and even manages to shoehorn James brown's "I Got You (I Feel Good)" into the scene where the slaves ingest the magic potion and begin building the palace without breaking a sweat (the hieroglyph-based choreography and body language works quite well). The whole movie's a lot of fun, and some of the highlights include:
  • Monica Bellucci's letter-perfect beautiful and haughty Cleopatra. I've said it before and I will say it again: that woman is so fine, I would willingly eat her turds.
  • Gerard Depardieu again literally bringing Obelix to fully-realized life, only this time with the costume being perfected to make him look like his belly is enormous. Obelix is one of my five favorite comics characters of all time, a vastly powerful superman with a heart and soul greater than his strength, and Depardieu's portrayal of him is the Gallic equivalent in quality to Christopher Reeve as Superman, so take that statement for what it's worth.
  • A run-in with beloved series regulars, the always ill-fated pirates, who this time decide to save themselves the humiliation and sink their ship before Asterix and Obelix get the chance to do it. Denied their almost ritualized brutalization of the pirates, a disappointed Asterix and Obelix loudly berate them as cheaters.
  • The true story of what happened to the Sphinx's nose (which readers of the comics will already know, but it remains hilarious).
  • A truly staggering example of Obelix's super-strength, which renders Asterix slack-jawed in amazement while Obelix doesn't even realize the enormity of his feat.
  • A scene in which Obelix single-handedly engages the amassed forces of Caesar's army that is deemed too bloody, horrible and violent for a family film, so the action is instead replaced with an educational short on lobsters.
  • Obelix's dog Dogmatix's rescue of the heroes from a labyrinth within a pyramid, musically accompanied by "Yakkety Sax" (aka the chase music made famous by it's ubiquity on THE BENNY HILL SHOW).
  • (military chant) "Caesar's met his match at last. Cleopatra owns his...Hey, look!"
A live-action cartoon in every sense of the term, ASTERIX & OBELIX: MISSION CLEOPATRA is well worth your time if you're in need of a pleasant laugh, and especially if you're already a fan of Asterix and Obelix. This flick is the rare "family" film that won't make you spew like Mr. Creosote. RECOMMENDED.

1 comment:

Firefly said...

This looks so funny - never seen the movie or comic, but now I must!