If you hate the French, then you'll love Bon Voyage.
Now there's a tag line you won't see any time soon on the posters for Jean-Paul Rappeneau's tale of wartime romance and intrigue. Briskly paced, lushly filmed and insouciant to a fault, it's actually a parody of movies like this -- a kinder, gentler farce from the country that likes to think it invented the form. Even the movie's rather meaningless title is a jokey cliché, for who doesn't know at least those two words of French.
Bon Voyage isn't so much elaborate as it is just a mess, although clearly by comic design. Frédéric (Grégori DerangÃ¨re) is a teacher and budding novelist who's still in love with his ex-girlfriend, Viviane (Isabelle Adjani), a beloved comedienne/chanteuse in French cinema, circa 1940. One dark and stormy night, she summons him to her apartment, where there's a dead body on the floor. The man slapped her, Viviane says, and she pushed him, and now he's dead. So the lovesick Frédéric puts the body in his trunk, crashes on the way to dispose of it, and goes to jail for murder. (Viviane failed to mention the bullet in the body.)
Three months later, the Germans invade Paris, and with the help of the raffish Raoul (Yvan Attal), Frédéric escapes the prison. He flees to Bordeaux, supposedly out of the Nazis' reach. Raoul flees there, too. So does Viviane and her new lover, Beaufort (Gérard Depardieu), a government minister. And so, too, does an old Jewish physicist who's produced heavy water -- a vital ingredient in making an A-bomb -- and who, with his committed young assistant Camille (Virginie Ledoyen), wants to get the valuable liquid to England. Little do they know that the dogged and well-known journalist Alex Winckler (Peter Coyote) is a German spy who wants the water as well.
These people all mix it up for love and adventure as Rappeneau takes swipes at both cinema history and the real thing. He has high regard for the individuals who resisted the Nazis and absolutely none for his nation's gutless government of the time. (Beaufort smugly refers to "that de Gaulle" and coddles each new compromise along.) He's especially hard on the moneyed elite, who keep looking for the next meal and luxury accommodation as the Germans "Heil Hitler" their way through the countryside.
Bon Voyage is occasionally amusing and nicely acted, especially by the affable DerangÃ¨re as a man of words who finally takes action. The doe-eyed Adjani is always a treat, and here she's even more likely than usual to cause tooth decay. Rappeneau's movie is witty in spurts, but with clearly nothing at stake, it grows a little tedious after the first hour. Its biggest laugh involves nuns and the puckish Attal, and its next biggest, strictly for the Francophiles, is a quick riff about the French language's copious use of the pronoun "one." In French, with subtitles.