Americanized Paris romping or Hollywood pulp with Gallic seasoning? Luc Besson's outré pop-sheen emerges from the portentous dunes of Le Dernier Combat into urban comic-book, the characters' impulsive can-do summed up in the Socrates-Sartre-Sinatra quotes that get the ball rolling. The opener is a Friedkin-chase spoof, the first of Besson's widescreen gags, Christopher Lambert, in albino-porcupine 'do and tuxedo, scrambling for the right soundtrack for his own speedster demolition-derby. Then literally underground, a hideout found in the labyrinthine métro, where he cools his heels while waiting for Isabelle Adjani, a rich, bored wife, whose safe he's detonated amid a gala gathering -- she needs the "papers" back, even if Lambert is more interested in hanging on to a photo of her as a little girl, already in love with her despite the whole police force on his tail. Other deadpan subway dwellers peppering the blackmail-cum-romance include rollerskating purse-snatcher Jean-Hughes Anglade, bulging weightlifter Christian Gomba and drummer Jean Reno, who dons pith helmet with the rest of Eric Serra's New Wave band for the concert finale, Brahms replaced by Arthur Simms and a faux-Morris Day "Guns and People." Before that there's "It's Only Mystery," staged with yearning dissolves, though Besson's kineticism is seldom less than visual choreography (vide commissioner Michel Galabru's various entrances, with gendarme entourage) and distilled motion, trains, rollerblades, escalators, the dollying, zipping camera. For all the '80s hipsterism, however, the picture's spirit is romantic, Beineix's delirious slickness (Richard Bohringer is aboard as Diva reminder) tuned to post-modern fairy-tales, drunk on pop -- Cinderella with a pistol, clownish authorities figures tagged as Batman and Robin, melancholy saxophone echoing throughout the corridors. The setting's upstairs/downstairs structure is the frisson between grounded reality and daredevil fantasy, or surface and meaning, mingled by Besson's cellophane artifice -- the neon outside the window filling in for sunshine, wielding sparks as fireworks, "Lucky Guy" emanating from a boombox. Cinematography by Carlo Varini. With Jean-Pierre Bacri.
--- Fernando F. Croce