Do Belgians dream of waffle-shaped sheep?
It’s easy to forget that only twenty years ago, Europe’s borders were guarded. Crossing from one country to the other was an exciting affair where passports were handed over and suspicious eyes set upon your vehicle. Border guards seem an anachronism nowadays.
But not to Ruben Vandevoorde, Belgian douanier extraordinaire. The year is 1993 and he has just learned the borders will be opened. A unified Europe is an affront to the fearfully nationalistic Ruben, who hates the French with a passion. Too bad he’ll have to cooperate with his ‘Camembert’ colleague Mathias Ducatel to adapt. Mathias, played by Boon, is a bit of a schlemiel and also happens to secretly court Ruben’s dear, pure-blood sister.
The rivalry between two opposing border guards stationed mere meters from each other is a classic comedy setup. In the hands of a manic genius like Louis de Funès it has the potential to elevate beyond its simple trappings into comedy gold. Neither actors here have that talent, unfortunately, and the result is something less than the sum of its parts.
The film is a follow-up to Boon’s pitch-perfect comedy Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis from 2008. Rien à Déclarer trades its predecessor’s warm laughs and well-rounded characters for a farcical approach. The bungling villains (an ill-tempered drug smuggler, his inept flunky, a dicey restaurant couple) are all one-note characters and the heroes aren’t much better. There are plenty of amusing ideas and moments present, but none of the zingers and outright hilarity this type of comedy demands. At other times, it tries to approach the pathos of Bienvenue, but doesn’t have the heart for it. As the French express so nicely, it’s ni l’un, ni l’autre.
Boon’s comedies have in recent years garnered quite some success both in France and beyond. Deservedly so, since they are all delightful movies visibly made with joy. It would be in his interest, however, not to become complacent. He’ll need to play to his strengths and keep those comedy wits razor sharp if he wants to live up to the reputation Bienvenue brought him.