French comic star Kev Adams headlines a live-action update of the classic fairytale.
It’s hard to say who, exactly, could be the target audience for The New Adventures of Aladdin (Les Nouvelles aventures d’Aladin), a costly Gallic update of the classic rags-to-riches story from The Arabian Nights (or, as most of the world has come to know it, of the 1992 Disney animated movie featuring the voice of Robin Williams).
Ostensibly, this €15 million ($17 million) fairytale was made for the many tweenage fans of its 24-year-old star, Kev Adams, who has gone from being a budding standup celeb to one of the most bankable actors working in France today. Yet as much as this laborious, ruthlessly unfunny movie has a polished PG feel to it, it's hard to say whether younger viewers will enjoy, or even understand, all of its blatant sexual innuendo, homophobic barbs, or whether they'll sing along to the booty-slapping Arabesque rap joint, “Yallah Yallah,” that Adams performs midway through the film.
Like other homegrown commercial comedies, Aladdin – which was directed by co-star Arthur Benzaquen and written by Daive Cohen (The Date Coach) – often toes the line between broadly dumbed down entertainment and slightly transgressive adult fare, hitting below the belt as much as possible in order to score easy laughs. (One character is constantly referred to as a “limp d—k,” while a princess in a summer dress is told her “tit is sticking out.”) It’s a silly, pricey and ultimately vulgar affair that should continue Adams’ winning streak in Gaul (his summer comedy, Serial Teachers 2, has made over $30 million), but won’t find many takers outside the French-speaking desert.
Framed by a semi-clever narrative device set in the present, the film begins and ends with a pair of losers – Sam (Adams) and Khalid (William Lebghil) – working as department store rent-a-Santas on Christmas Eve, although their real plan is to rob the place once the doors shut for the evening. (Don’t ask how or why – plausibility is not Adams’ forte. Nor is humor, for that matter.) Before the heist can happen, Sam gets ambushed by a bunch of kids begging for a holiday story, and so, he launches into an improvised version of the Aladdin tale, whisking us away to an imaginary Baghdad straight out of a CG picture book.
There, the titular street thief and shyster (also played by Adams) goes through the usual ropes of the plot, uncovering a magic lamp and a genie (Eric Judor) granting him not three but five wishes, which Aladdin uses to win over the beautiful princess, Shallia (Vanessa Guide). Along the way, he faces the wrath of the evil Vizir (Jean-Paul Rouve), while reconnecting with his partner-in-crime, Khalid (Lebghil, again), who winds up caught in the palace intrigues of the reigning sultan (Michel Blanc).
Trying to dish out at least one joke every thirty seconds, Adams and company go to great lengths in their quest for laughter, with lots of expensive f/x-driven gags (magic carpets hotwired like cars), requisite pranks involving the star’s hair (which continues to be his principal attraction, and is seen here in both frizzy and blow-out form) and a number of lewd stabs at sex comedy (including one scene where Benzaquen, who plays an overtly gay magician, jabs his index finger into Adams’ ear, in a bizarre form of man-on-man molestation).
All of this is meant to bring Aladdin/Adams down to earth during the final act, with a morale that amounts to: “the best one can wish for is to be oneself." But the journey that takes us there is both tiresome and redundant, sometimes excruciatingly so. When a joke doesn’t work the first time, the filmmakers tend to repeat it ad infinitum, hoping that it will reach the viewer through mere repetition – sort of like an obnoxious ring tone you keep hearing in your head even after shutting your phone off.
Not that Adams’ audience will have a problem with any of this, and at the screening caught in central Paris, some of the film's worst lines garnered a decent amount of laughs from the crowd. It seems like the comic can do no wrong with his massive French fan base, which means that financiers will continue to toss tons of money into poorly conceived projects like this one. In that sense, Aladdin’s wish has been granted.