Friday, 23 February 2007

Why a schticky buddy-cop movie finally out grossed a teen sex romp and what this means for Canadian Carmody Wilson

Director: Eric Canuel
Screenwriter: Leila Basen & Alex Epstein
Running Time: 116 mins
Certificate: 12
Released: Now

The Quebecois have always been the tastemakers for Canada, particularly when it comes to film. Not only do they produce films that Francophones and Anglophones enjoy alike, but they do it so often, and so well. Films produced in Quebec have a tendency to be more sexually explicit, more controversial than films produced in the rest of Canada, but more often than not, do much better at the box office. Denys Arcand’s Les invasions barbare won an Oscar. The films of Robert Lepage are cutting –edge reminders of what can be done with minimalist structure. 2005’s C.R.A.Z.Y., a film about a young boy breaking the mold of his traditional Francophone family, was the highest grossing domestic film of that year, but it was French with subtitles and made more in English Canada than any other locally produced celluloid, coming in at over six million dollars. In fact, if numbers are looked at from years past, chances are that any given year will reveal a Francophone film at the top of the Canadian charts. This is a happy and impressive fact, considering that French and English Canada tend not to agree on much else. Truly it shows that Canadians of all linguistic leanings are cultured, tolerant and full of admiration for great art.

So why then, was Porky’s our nation’s number-one grossing movie of all time?

When it was released in 1981, Porky’s , a coming-of age-story set in Florida with content focusing more on coming than age, people went to see it in droves. Though directed by an American and set in the United States, the film fulfilled enough Canadian content rules to be financed by a Canadian production company, and therefore considered local. It grossed 11.3 million dollars. Adjusted for inflation, that’s 24.2 million dollars. A crime. A rape of culture. Sure, Americans bellyache about Titanic being their big money domestic shame, an Oscar-winner about a historic boat crash that leveled the world with its sensitive direction and beautiful love story. Canadians have a hormonal teenage sex quest that introduces Kim Cattrall as a woman who howls like Lassie during intercourse. And it doesn’t even take place in our country. Is this what Hugh McLennan meant when he discussed the “Two Solitudes”? If movie numbers are any consideration, it means “those who have seen Porky’s “and “those who have not.”

Thankfully, Porky’s reign of terror is over. As the numbers for 2006 rolled in, a new domestic box office leader was announced, and quell surprise, it was a made-in Canada, Quebec-filmed, Francophone produced, bilingual buddy cop movie. Enter Bon Cop Bad Cop. Exit Porky’s.

Written and produced by Kevin Tierney (One Dead Indian, Twist, producer) and directed by Eric Canuel (Le Survenant, Le Dernier Tunnel), Bon Cop Bad Cop takes on much more familiar territory. A body is found draped over the sign that signifies the border between Ontario and Quebec and cross-jurisdiction cooperation must be given between the law-enforcement agencies of each province. Though both the Ontario Provincial Police Detective, played by Colm Feore, and the Quebecois Detective, played by Patrick Huard, are both bilingual, they use a war of words to fuel misunderstandings in order to convey their intense dislike of each other. When it was released in Quebec in early August 2006, Bon Cop Bad Cop had the highest-grossing opening weekend of any movie in the province’s history, eventually going on to earn more there than The Da Vinci Code and Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest, two of the biggest earners elsewhere in North America. Additionally, in English Canada it went on to earn record numbers for a Canadian film. So what makes Bon Cop Bad Cop so special?

There is plenty of slapstick in the movie, literally, as the killer is a hockey-mask- wearing miscreant with a thing against NHL players, and amusing stunt casting, with such notable Canadian faces as Monday Report’s Rick Mercer making appearances. In short, there is plenty of comedic material. The remarkable thing about Bon Cop Bad Cop that makes it a specifically Canadian film is not its humour or its references but that all dialogue was filmed entirely in French and then re-filmed entirely in English. It is a truly bilingual film. Canuel then used the best takes, freely sampling from both languages, to intercut the dialogue, thus creating a back and forth of “franglaise”. The result is a rapid-fire exchange of diluted delivery that serves to elevate the animosity between the two detectives and their insecure cultural identities. The DVD, released on December 19, 2006, has subtitle options in both English and French, while those able to do their own translating of both languages can opt out of subtitles altogether. These unique language options clearly have spoken to audiences across Canada as representative of the nation’s confusion over “the language debate”, and the fact that Bon Cop Bad Cop is a comedy that deals with these issues rather than a ponderous, self-important drama is a telling aspect.

But what of the rest of the world? Surely a half-French Canadian movie would be of no interest to anyone outside of Quebec, or at the very least, Francophone strongholds elsewhere in Canada? The worldwide gross of Bon Cop Bad Cop was 11.1 million, an impressive showing for such a supposedly niche film. What’s more impressive is that the American gross was 12.6 million. Bon Cop Bad Cop broke the American market. These numbers, taken out of context, are small. When compared with American blockbusters released at the same time, Bon Cop Bad Cop doesn’t even compare. Even when pitted against stinkers like The Pink Panther, which grossed over 82 million, the achievement of Bon Cop Bad Cop seems paltry. But when paired with other Canadian releases, the improvement is marked: Atom Egoyan’s 2005 release Where the Truth Lies, starring big names Kevin Bacon, Alison Lohman and Colin Firth raked in just $989,142 in the United States, while the aforementioned Les invasions barbare earned around 8.5 million in the same market. Bon Cop Bad Cop earned millions more in this arena, while the former are films that are considered to have done exceptionally well in foreign markets.

The secret to the film’s success is really no secret at all. Quebec audiences are the ones that propelled this little eight million dollar movie into the highest grossing domestic film of all time, with 90% of the ticket sales coming from that province alone. Patrick Huard who plays the Quebecois detective with the laissez-faire approach to crime-solving, is a huge star in his home province, having starred in the popular Les Boys series, and Colm Feore, as representative of English Canada, has had his share of success in La Belle Province starring as former Prime Minister and Montreal native Pierre Trudeau in Trudeau: The Miniseries. The response from Quebec audiences propelled the distributor, Alliance Atlantis, to mount an aggressive advertising campaign in the rest of North America, which in combination with the word-of-mouth campaign, got bums in seats in record numbers. Adieu, Porky’s, plus ca change.

Despite the accolades and positive response that Bon Cop Bad Cop has garnered, there are some niggling naysayers who negate the numbers. And true, when adjusted for inflation, Porky’s is still Canada’s number one at the box office. Forget all of that. Do not fall victim to the economics of time and let a movie that is both uniquely Canadian and funny and popular with international audiences fall a shamefaced second to Porky’s. Do what critics and audiences alike are doing and hail Bon Cop Bad Cop as the new Queen of Canadian Cinema. Long may she reign.

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