Racer and the Jailbird (2 stars)

Racer and the Jailbird

Michaël R Roskam and Matthias Schoenaerts reunite for an underwhelming crime drama

Although its English-language title suggests a boisterous B-movie, Racer and the Jailbird offers a defiantly sombre, occasionally plodding look at the perils of taking a chance on love. Ace Belgian director Michaël R Roskam follows The Drop and Bullhead with his first disappointment: a romantic crime drama that's overlong and underwhelming.

Roskam's regular collaborator Matthias Schoenaerts plays 'Gigi' Vanoirbeek; introduced as a preppy importer-exporter, in reality he's a former street kid and bank robber running with a close-knit gang. This shady but surprisingly gentlemanly character is instantly taken with the beautiful 'Bibi' Delhany (Adèle Exarchopoulos) – a rich girl racer working for daddy's construction company – and the feeling is clearly mutual. Gigi insists he's trustworthy, but when he tells Bibi he's a gangster she takes it as a joke and, as their relationship progresses at a 100-miles an hour, the secret shame of his criminality becomes a gulf between them.

Both Schoenaerts and Exarchopoulos invest their portrayals with integrity, yet they share limited chemistry as a couple, rendering their courtship less than compelling. A very youthful-looking Schoenaerts does a good job of uncovering the sensitive soul behind the impulsive idiot, and his character's motivations are at least articulated. Exarchopoulos might be capable of great subtlety but, despite ample screen-time, she has nothing to work with here; Bibi's passivity confines the movie to the doldrums, the actress finding herself saddled with a script that seems to think it's enough to give Bibi an unconventional hobby and a disinterest in receiving flowers and no other discernible personality traits or back-story.

If there are nods to films like Heat, then for better and worse it becomes its own beast, treating the heists as a side-note – a means to an end, rather than spectacle to savour – and taking a somewhat unexpected turn. Whilst far from an outright disaster, Racer and the Jailbird fails to satisfy on any level: its female lead is a passenger, its romance is lacklustre and, as a thriller, it's desperately short on engine power.

Limited release from Fri 13 Jul.

Racer and the Jailbird

  • 2 stars
  • 2017
  • Belgium / France / Netherlands
  • 2h 10min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Michaël R Roskam
  • Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Eric De Staercke
  • UK release: 13 July 2018

Gigi (Schoenaerts) is a gentlemanly gangster who falls for Bibi (Exarchopoulos), a rich girl racer working for daddy’s construction company, only she doesn’t believe he’s really a criminal. Plodding, overlong and underwhelming crime drama which gives Exarchopoulos in particular not nearly enough to work with; a lacklustre…

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