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Friday, May 4, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"The Valet" takes some silliness out for a spin

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars


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"The Valet," with Gad Elmaleh, Alice Taglioni, Daniel Auteuil, Kristin Scott Thomas, Richard Berry, Virginie Ledoyen. Written and directed by Francis Veber.

85 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language. In French with English subtitles.

Francis Veber, the French writer/director of "The Closet," "The Dinner Game," "Ruby & Quentin" and numerous other comedies, has an innate understanding of pacing, and his movies purr like a smoothly running sports-car engine.

Appropriately, "The Valet" begins with the happy roar of just such an engine, driven by a young man who at first seems one of fortune's favored, driving a shiny roadster in sunny Paris. Quickly, though, we learn that he is François Pignon (Gad Elmaleh, an excellent eye-popper), a valet parker who lives with his roommate in a messy flat, and who dreams of marrying his old friend Emile (Virginie Ledoyen), a pretty salt-of-the-earth sort who works in a bookstore and thinks of him as a kid brother.

But fate — and farce — has different plans for François, who has the misfortune to turn up in the background of a paparazzi photo of the superrich Pierre Levasseur (Daniel Auteuil, a Veber regular, his face perpetually tightened in concern) and his supermodel mistress Elena (Alice Taglioni). Levasseur, determined that his wife, Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas, icy-cool and speaking French), won't find out about his affair, cooks up a scheme: He offers François a large amount of money to have Elena move in with him, so that it will appear to all — especially Christine — that the valet and the model are a couple.

Thus ensue numerous complications, not the least of which is that Christine (who's the smartest character in the movie, by a long shot) arranges for a pair of drive-by decorators to break into François' apartment and hang some very attractive window treatments. (Is this what feuding spouses do in France?) Meanwhile, fashion legend Karl Lagerfeld (wearing a shirt with a collar so high he seems imprisoned in it) makes a cameo appearance, and Patrick Mille steals a couple of scenes as a dude who hangs around the bookstore hoping to impress Emile. He's so pleased with his own awesomeness that he practically pirouettes out the store's door.

In between all of this very enjoyable silliness, François and Elena emerge; not as a couple but as a pair of sweet people for whom you wish to see things turn out right. François (whose name, François Pignon, turns up in numerous Veber movies — it's the name of Auteuil's character in "The Closet") eyes Elena not possessively, but, he says, as he would a great car that he's parking: "beautiful, but not mine."

We can count on farce, and on Veber, to ensure that everyone ends up where they should, and "The Valet" resolves itself most satisfyingly, in its tidy 85 minutes. It's a formulaic comedy that feels fresh — and that's a rare accomplishment.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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