Put the French thriller “Rodeo” in enough theaters, and the main thing greeting the next “Fast/Furious” iteration — along with tens of millions at the box office — would be hoots of laughter.
“Rodeo” is an unblinking, gritty and nervous thriller about a young hothead who only comes alive or feels at peace enough to smile when she’s on her bike. It’s a “Gone in 60 Seconds”/”Bicycle Thieves”/”Fast and Furious” mashup with heat and fear and fury and not even the barest hint of sentiment.
There’s novelty in the fact that Julie (Julie Ledru) is a tough-as-nails young woman who knows how to check out any new-to-her motorcycle, assessing the clutch, the brakes and throttle, holding her hand over the exhaust to see if it is “missing.” Details like that make or break a gearhead tale wrapped in a character study like this one.
Julie rages at the world, a Guadalupe-born high-mileage 20something still living at home with her student younger brother and never-seen mother in a housing project.
We meet her mid-rage. Somebody’s stolen her latest bike, and no one can calm her from her fury. When she collects herself, she makes a call, pulls herself together, fills a filched purse with rocks and shows up to test ride another dirt bike.
We see what someone who knows her means when he tells her “S–t sticks to you.” She’s trouble, and troubled.
Julie can manage a disarming smile through her cut-rate dentistry, tame her unruly hair just a smidge and lie without compunction. Julie’s an old hand at test-ride-and-fly thefts.
“I was born with a bike between my legs,” she boasts (in French with English subtitles).
“Rodeo” is about what happens when she finds her “tribe,” the reckless, outlaw, stunt-riding and traffic disrupting “B-Mores.”
Yeah, the name could use some work.
Things go wrong at an impromptu rally/gathering, but “the noobie” keeps her cool.
Next thing we know, she’s in their shop, recruited to help in the “steal, modify and re-sell” side of the allegedly legitimate business they run at the behest of Domino, who directs and controls one and all from his prison cell.
Next thing she knows, she has a wary ally (Yanis Lafki) and a sexist creep nemesis or two, guys in the gang who don’t want her around and aren’t squeamish about how they get their wish.
Director/co-writer Lola Quivoron’s debut feature quivers with indie film energy — on foot, in fights and on bikes. We’re treated to a tribute ride for a fallen comrade, a parade of stunts by riders showing off and the measures taken when “The cops! The cops!” show up (smoke bombs, chaos, and a few bikers get hurt). The film rocks along on lots of hand-held camerawork and close-ups of her unconcerned-with-her-looks heroine.
Ledru, making her big-screen debut, is unaffected naturalism defined. She doesn’t dress down. She takes it to extremes. The dark circles under her eyes have dark circles under them.
Antonia Buresi plays Domino’s wife, trapped in her apartment with an acting-out 4-year-old by a control-freak husband who rules her life with an iron fist, and does it from behind bars.
Buresi co-wrote the script with Quivoron, and they manage to set up expectations and sweep them aside more than once. We think we know what the big action beats will be — conditioned by the early “Fast and Furious” movies — and sometimes, they’re simply checked-off to make way for the next twist.
“Rodeo” is so good it’s almost sure to inspire a Hollywood remake. Catch it in the original French grit, because while we know Zazie Beetz can ride, who knows if they’ll meet her quote?
Rating: unrated, violence, gruesome injuries, drug abuse, profanity
Cast: Julie Ledru, Yannis Lafki, Antonia Buresi, Louis Sotton and Junior Correia
Credits: Directed by Lola Quivoron, scripted by Antonia Buresi and Lola Quivoron. A Music Box release.
Running time: 1:46