‘The Prey’: Start running

June 6, 2013

prey

“The Prey” is one of those high-energy suspense thrillers that the French seem to toss off effortlessly – then sit back helplessly as Americans muck up the remake.

I dare you to watch this film and not spend the second half recasting it in your mind with American stars.

Albert Dupontel plays Franck Adrien, a bank robber finishing his sentence with just a few months to go. But when he intervenes to keep his creepy cellmate (in on a charge of molesting a teen-age girl) from taking a beating by other prisoners, his sentence is extended.

In gratitude, his cellmate, Jean-Louis Maurel (Stephane Debac) – whose charges are dropped when his victim admits she made them up – offers to help Franck protect the money he stole from greedy partners who are looking to grab it all for themselves before Franck can get out. Desperate, Franck gives him a message to deliver to his wife that will lead to the loot.

But within a few days, Franck has a visit from a cop, Carrega (Sergi Lopez), who asks questions about Maurel – because he long suspected that Maurel was responsible for the disappearance and death of a string of teen-age girls. Which means that Franck has pointed a serial killer at his wife and young daughter, as though aiming a loaded weapon at them.

So Franck seizes an opportunity and escapes from prison, then goes on the run to find Maurel. He’s hunted by Claire (Alice Taglioni), a hard-charging cop who begins to believe that Franck has escaped for a reason, then begins to turn her attention toward Maurel as well.

Fast-paced if occasionally improbable, “The Prey” is a tightly constructed little suspense machine, as neatly plotted as an advanced calculus problem. There’s an answer but it is never obvious, even as director Eric Valette builds to a literal cliff-hanger.

Dupontel has a tough, masculine quality as Franck, who is tender enough to have attracted a gorgeous wife but tough enough to survive Russian gangsters in the slammer. Taglioni makes the most of a thankless job as the cop who, in following her instincts, runs afoul of her superiors but stays focused on the right trail. Debac has a blandly threatening affect as the serial killer who is not quite as smart as he thinks.

“The Prey” is brisk, concise and engaging. Here’s hoping Hollywood doesn’t get the impulse to screw it up.

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