Blessed with a handsome hangdog mug and a burly side-of-beef physique, the Gallic actor Albert Dupontel could be France’s answer to Robert Mitchum or Aldo Ray: a tough guy who can seem cucumber-cool one moment, and then punch you in the kisser the next. He may have started as a stand-up comedian (and if an American distributor ever sacs up and releases the subversive satire Le Grand Soir, you’ll see he’s got the deadpan-comic-timing thing down pat), but Dupontel’s rough-and-tumble masculinity suggests he’s built to play pugilists and professional leg-breakers. Or be the lead of a B-movie prison thriller, which is how Eric Valette’s pulpy flick starts out. Watching Dupontel’s Franck Adrien protecting his cellmate (Stéphane Debac), an alleged pedophile, from their fellow convicts, you get to indulge in the cinema’s most primal cheap thrill: spending time with a star who can make you believe his noble thug is fluent in the language of violence.
Enjoy The Prey’s jailbird-genre pleasures while you can, however, for once Adrien flies the coop, the movie switches to being a slick riff on The Fugitive and settles into a rote-action-film rut. A dogged cop (Alice Taglioni) is hot on his trail, as the escapee tracks down the killer who’s abducted his kid; Valette films the functional yet familiar chase scenes through traffic, over trains and in suburban neighborhoods decently enough. But the closer we get to a climax (and the more that absurd reversals keep getting piled on), the less effective Dupontel’s brutish charisma is in keeping things interesting and afloat. You pray the next he-man outing makes better use of his presence.
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