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“The Takedown,” a sequel to the 2012 French buddy cop comedy “On the Other Side of the Tracks,” begins by acknowledging that it is in trouble. Why create another “Lethal Weapon”-inspired story when we’re beginning to confront structural issues in policing? Letterier, formerly of “The Transporter” and “Now You See Me,” responds to this issue with ideological and visual nonsense, hoping to create the illusion of a high-energy distraction. The film’s clumsy dazzling only highlights Letterier’s desperation, as well as what perpetuates the heroic cop story today.
Omar Sy reprises his role as Ousmane Diakité, a cop who can hold his own even when outnumbered and imprisoned. So much so that he beats up a hulking MMA fighter in his own ring and ends the scene triumphantly by making the audience yell, “The police! The police! The police!” Ousmane’s beating goes viral, inspiring the Paris police to use him and his Black skin in their cheesy social media campaign, which he mocks. He knows what they’re up to—trying to cover up the heinous actions of other cops, unseen in the film but very visible in real life—but the film abandons this angle and assumes responsibility for police public relations. Meanwhile, Ousmane’s former cop partner, François Monge (Laurent Lafitte), is shown babbling to and then bedding his therapist, establishing himself as both the duo’s womanizer and the generic face of generic whiteness in policing. Also, you must try to play this The Takedown Movie quiz.
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All of this lip service, all of this winking, nearly kills “The Takedown’s” low-level amusement when the plot finally kicks off, after a severed body is discovered inside a train. Ousmane and François are reunited by the case, and they investigate with the help of a woman named Alice (Iza Higelin), who sets off both of their boyish inabilities to talk to a woman they find attractive. Also, you will find out which character are you in this quiz.
Alice serves as a sort of tour guide through the town of the crime, a place so conservative that the mayor is a not-so-subtle fascist. As if the film is saying, one may not like cops, but at least they aren’t outright skinheads who work for a security firm with a pseudo-SS symbol for a logo. Anyway, the top half of a guy named Kevin leads to something about a super drug, one of many undercooked story pieces in Stéphane Kazandjian’s jumbled script. There is a larger conspiracy at work, albeit expressed with such shaky ideas that there are few emotional stakes even when an immigrant shelter is bombed.
The film has an image problem not only with its cop optics but also with the large, explosive set pieces that Letterier works tirelessly to make visually incomprehensible. “The Takedown” is jam-packed with overzealously swooping, shaky cinematography, or jarring cuts that freely take us close-up during a scuffle and then suddenly put us in the sky, implying a personal beef between the editors and the fight choreography team. When combined with the camera’s penchant for wide-angle lenses that freely distort whatever is on the side of the frame, this flurry becomes sinfully ugly, a terrible combination with a constantly moving camera. It’s another level of ridiculous, dizzying, “slick” French action filmmaking, a direct descendant of the 14 cuts it took Liam Neeson in Olivier Megaton’s “Taken 3” to jump a fence.
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Taking “The Takedown” on its own merits, their performances are more or less stapled together by generic buddy-cop comedy banter, including an eye-rolling moment when dopey François puts his foot in his mouth about his whiteness, the two sharing an awkward beat in which he realizes what stupid complaint about his privilege he just made. It’s not often that a film with this many car crashes leaves you wanting less action and more talking, but our two heroes don’t have much personality beyond their appearances (the “mismatched” angle is dismissed). For all of the movie’s jokes about Ousmane being a tokenized Black cop, the story doesn’t give him much of an interior; and the set-ups with François are, at best, jokes about his poor sexual boundaries in the workplace. There’s simply no room for genuine chemistry between these two, making this a rom-com with a little spark.
Why are cop stories so appealing to us? Why have we entrusted them with the role of our fantasy action heroes, fetishizing them when they have to do things “their own way”? “The Takedown,” as rambling as it is, brings this up but then is too cowardly to pursue it, treating structural police problems as a trending topic that Sy’s charm and Lafitte’s cringing whiteness can help us forget for two nauseating hours. “The Takedown” works tirelessly to maintain the facade of heroic policing in the most generic way possible, for the sake of who knows what greater good.