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Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 takes the opposite approach to achieve a similar effect. The first intallment of the saga of French mobster Jacques Mesrine has already opened with last week’s excellent, efficient, and action-packed Mesrine: Killer Instinct. The story’s second half, Public Enemy No. 1, largely offers more of the same—but it’s not nearly compelling enough this time around to warrant its existence.
Here, Mesrine (Vincent Cassel, still turning in a lively performance) is puffier and even more arrogant as director Jean-François Richet follows the felon into the ’70s. With a champagne belly and pimptastic look, Mesrine spends much of the film doing four things: robbing banks, shooting/being shot at, celebrating his booty, and complaining when anyone mispronounces his name. (And news anchors, despite Mesrine’s decade-plus of thieving, mispronounce his name a lot. We know because he and his revolving door of partners frequently have their identities blown by a TV that’s reporting their latest spree.)
The crimes, with their inevitable chase scenes, become repetitive, as does Mesrine’s cavalier attitude toward—and ability to evade—law enforcement. (When he does serve time in jail, he even confesses to over 40 murders in his memoir, later saying he wouldn’t do anything so stupid if he really killed all those people.) Mesrine even kidnaps an elderly billionaire, just as he did in the first film. His love interest this time around is Sylvie (A Girl Cut in Two’s Ludivine Sagnier), who frets over the well-being of her sugar daddy yet giddily struts around in the finery he’s able to buy her; a jewelry-shopping montage set to, no joke, “Rapper’s Delight,” is a truly low point.
Mesrine’s bravado is so extreme here, easily overshadowing the heists themselves, that you stop rooting for the bad-but-thrilling guy and instead want him to shut up. He gloats when he’s officially declared France’s public enemy No. 1, gets pissed (and seeks revenge) when a reporter calls him a “dishonorable bandit,” and even fumes when Augusto Pinochet makes the headlines instead of him. He wears various disguises in the film, mostly to pose as a cop. It’s a bit ridiculous. A disguise itself is usually silly; a Me Decade getup even more so.
Though Public Enemy No. 1 is superfluous, it’s never so dull as to be unwatchable. And the climax is epic: Expanding on the opening scene of the first film, Richet grips you with a sequence so well-shot and paced that it closes Mesrine’s story with maximum intensity. The only problem? It could have capped an elongated Part 1 just as nicely.