I’ve always loved Asterix. I real all of his albums countless times, enjoying immensely Rene Goscinny’s hilarious writing and Albert Uderzo’s lively, colorful drawings. These characters are so familiar to me that it’s almost as if I knew them. A few cartoon adaptations of the hugely popular European comic strip have been made, and they’re mostly fun, especially “Asterix & Cléopâtre”, a highly imaginative and laugh-out-loud funny feature packed which contains a bunch of unforgettable musical numbers. We had to expect some studio suits to eventually decide to make a live action Asterix movie, and now here it is, with a huge budget and an all star cast. I was curious to see this movie, but also worried. For every enjoyable comic book adaptation (the 60s Batman series for instance), you get ten awful, awful ones. So, did I like the movie ? Well, it has a few little (and some big) flaws, but overall, it’s an entertaining, goofy movie.
Christian Clavier stars as the cocky little blonde Gaul while Gerard Depardieu embodies the dimwitted but warm-hearted fatass Obelix. They live in the only small village of Gaul who still resist the Roman occupation. The whole gang is here: there’s their chief, the rowdy Abraracourcix, no-talent Bard Assurancetourix, fish merchant Ordralfabetix, badass blacksmith Cetautomatix, the old and cranky Agecanonix and his much younger wife and of course, the wise Druid Panoramix, whose magic potion give the Gauls their exceptional strength. At first, director Claude Zidi seems to have gotten the Asterix universe quite right. The costumes and the sets are colorful and impressive, and though Asterix is not small enough and Obelix ain’t fat enough, the actors have the energy and the mannerisms of the characters. The movie is fast, raunchy and funny and it recreates the mood of the series, which is all about big feasts, fights and male bonding. Some of the early scenes are hella enjoyable, like a village brawl caused by controversy over the freshness of Ordralfabetix’ fish and an attack by the Roman soldiers of the nearby camp of Babaorum. Most of the performers are overacting, but that fits with the cartoonish feel of the material. I particularly dig Oscar-winning Italian actor Roberto Benigni, who plays the hilariously crooked Roman centurion Detritus.
So far, so good. But then Zidi makes a big mistake. Having set up his characters, he should have driven them into a plot with various dangers and stuff, and then have Asterix and his buddies overcome these and rejoice. Unfortunately, Zidi just keeps throwing half-bakes ideas in the movie, which never really leads anywhere. It’s a case of too much being like not enough. First we see the return of the babelicious Falbala, who was gone to Lutece for her studies. Obelix hasn’t seen her since she was a kid, and he immediately falls in love with the huge boobs she now carries around. But she brings along her boyfriend, Tragicomix, who looks like a gay pride super-hero, with his pointy pecs, his red cape and his long blonde hair. Falbala likes Obelix, but only as a friend. Bitch. Before you know it, the movie moves his attention to a phony oracle who makes predictions to Abraracourcix, but only because he wanna use the Gauls’ power to get to Caesar’s stash of gold coins.
That storyline too comes and go, only to be succeeded by others. There’s Detritus who captures Panoramix to force him to give him the secret of his magic potion, Obelix who disguises as a Roman and starts helping the enemy, a visit to Panoramix’ great grandfather, who’s so old that he’s covered with mushrooms and who can give them unicorn milk, which combined with the magic potion will create clones of Asterix and Obelix. And then out of nowhere it’s Obelix’ birthday, as if the film was not messy enough already! Don’t get me wrong: most of this is entertaining, campy and even laugh-out-loud funny sometimes. The art direction is gorgeous, the production is impressive (for a French film at least), the actors are having fun, and so are we. I love the way the Gauls punch Romans so hard that they fly in the air, Benigni is hysterical like always and there’s an hilariously insane climactic scene involving snakes, lions, spiders, an elephant and a troll. But the film is uneven and about 15 minutes too long, and it lacks the satirical irreverence of the comic strip. “Asterix & Obelix Contre César” is not a good film, but it’s fun enough to make it worth seeing if you’re a fan.