Directed by: Guillaume Pierret || Produced by: Remi Leautier, Guillame Pierret, Alban Lenoir
Screenplay by: Guillaume Pierret, Alban Lenoir, Kamel Guemra || Starring: Alban Lenoir, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Ramzy Bedia
Music by: Andre Dziezuk, Romain Trouillet || Cinematography: Morgan S. Dalibert || Edited by: Sophie Fourdrinoy || Country: France || Language: Fench
Running Time: 92 + 98 minutes = 190 minutes
I’ve long wondered why anyone, hardcore action fans or general audiences, would bother watching the generic, watered-down, bland action of the Fast & Furious (FF; 2001-) franchise when they have the Mad Max (1979, 1981, 1985) series, Fury Road (2015) most of all, at their disposal. While I understand the inherent appeal of a diverse, legally ambiguous ensemble cast who battle crooked cops and rival gangsters on both sides of the law, both screenplay format and directorial execution of every FF installment have left me, as an action enthusiast, baffled by the brand’s unassailable popularity. Characters are forgettable, the starring actors are either miscast (e.g. Vin Diesel), have zero screen presence (e.g. Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Gal Gadot), or irritate the hell out of me (e.g. Tyrese Gibson), and the action itself has as much brutality as a Looney Tunes (1930-1969) cartoon. Even their throwaway connections to street racing and real-life automotive subcultures were jettisoned by the fifth movie (2011) over a decade ago. Like most bloated superhero epics, FF movies are action movies for those who aren’t that into action movies.
Another superior action franchise that specializes in car-chase sequences besides Mad Max has arisen thanks to Netflix and rookie writer-director Guillaume Pierret. Released during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic with a followup this November 2022, Pierret’s Lost Bullet (“Balle Perdue”) is a French crime drama that recalls the straightforward motor vehicle thrills of another Netflix thriller, Burn Out (2017), starring Francois Civil, as well as the catchall action style of the FF series, featuring everything from chase scenes to fisticuffs to shootouts. These Bullet films are based on the simplest, most threadbare of plots unlike the convoluted melodrama of FF, however, providing just enough characterization to make their leads relatable and sufficient motivation to justify each action sequence’s cause and effects: Main character Alban Lenoir, an ex-con and mechanical engineer, is recruited by a local detective (Ramzey Bedia) to upgrade his narcotics unit’s police cars to chase down local drug runners in exchange for parole; within the first act, Lenoir and Bedia are targeted by crooked officers within their department who profit off the local drug trade, and thereafter high-octane hilarity ensues, much of it involving the ballistics of a weapon used to frame Lenoir for murder. That’s about it as far as plot goes.
Lost Bullet’s streamlined narrative is so stripped down relative to numerous bloated Hollywood blockbusters it reminds me of The Raid’s (2011) efficiency in establishing a believable premise for nonstop action. Parts 1 and 2 range from 92-98 minutes each, so pacing is never an issue when the script’s set-pieces are this diverse, well structured, and plain bonkers. At the same time, neither the 2020 original nor the 2022 sequel feel rushed in any way, with each act organically transitioning to the next with just enough snappy dialogue and acting chemistry to satisfy.
Lost Bullet’s main attractions, though, both its hand-to-hand combat and car chases, are the stars of the show. The vehicle stunts in the latter feel real and any digital manipulation fooled my eye, while Lenoir’s character’s backstory as an engineer provides a fun excuse for memorable embellishments to the stunt cars’ gnarly bullbars and rams. Perhaps the biggest surprises of Lost Bullet, however, are its unforgettable fistfights that come across simultaneously intricate, well choreographed, and over-the-top, but also sloppy, impromptu, and realistic, like a spectacular random brawl captured on the street. As much as I enjoyed the impressive car chase elements of this two-parter, my favorite scenes in each are the scrappy close-quarters-combat set-pieces that come out of nowhere: In the 2020 film, a restrained Lenoir breaks out of a police precinct by punching, kicking, and wrestling his way past a dozen cops, a scene that ends with him pepper spraying four of them in the face; in the 2022 film, Lenoir barges back into a police station on an impulse to break out another criminal witness he just delivered there, a scene that starts with a flashbang grenade tossed into the middle of a group of tactical officers. Both of these sequences are believable, by the way.
My only hesitancy with recommending quality films like these is the inverse of my reaction to generic cookie-cutter “action films” like The Fast and the Furious. Lost Bullet, while not super gory or offensive to most audiences, is so specialized in its genre focus that it likely won’t appeal to most viewers who aren’t hardcore action junkies; that’s even before you consider lazy American audiences who can’t tolerate subtitles in a film told through, well, action. Fast and Furious movies, while not good genre films by any stretch of the imagination — their cast are most famous for performances in other, similarly bland movies, their dialogue is cornball, their pacing sucks, and their fistfights, vehicle stunts, and gunplay so tame, weightless, and cartoonish — strike the right amount of interchangeable, inoffensive loudness to distract general viewers for a little over two hours. Thus, I sort of answered the question I posed above in the first paragraph. Good luck competing with that, Lost Bullet.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Violent, tenacious, and efficient, writer and first-time director Guillaume Pierret strikes the right cord of scrappy underdog spirit and sensationalized crime drama to produce a Mad Max offshoot fit for the scenic freeways of southern France. It doesn’t reinvent the action wheel, but it doesn’t have to when its stunts are this good, its story this bare-bones, and its characters this much fun.