French Connection II (1975)
Release Date: May 21st, 1975 MPAA Rating: R
Director: John Frankenheimer Actors: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Bernard Fresson, Philippe Leotard, Ed Lauter, Samantha Llorens, Andre Penvern
ew sequels are able to capture the power and passion of the original, especially when it comes to Best Picture Academy Award-winning films. So it’s no surprise that “French Connection II” (for some reason, the word “The” was left off) is drastically less impressive and not nearly as suspenseful as its predecessor. The movie does offer up another fine portrayal by Gene Hackman, with decent supporting performances and the welcome reappearance of likeable baddie Fernando Rey. And for anyone disappointed with the lack of total resolution at the close of the first film, “French Connection II” is almost a direct continuation, offering closure (in the vein of “The Godfather Part III”), familiar tension-filled pursuits (although the filmmakers don’t even attempt to outdo 1971’s most famous chase sequence), and action, even if the story is generally not as interesting – or even very necessary.
Brooklyn narcotics detective “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) is assigned a position in Paris to aid the French police in tracking down the elusive heroin kingpin Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey). The New York cop’s main liaison is Barthelemy (Bernard Fresson), an insincere officer who ridicules Doyle for his reckless behavior and positively isn’t keen on aiding an overblown American hero (comparable to a serious take on the premise of “Brannigan”). Popeye doesn’t like being in France either, and is quick to lose the two policemen assigned to watch him so he can wander around Marseilles unchaperoned.
But as soon as Doyle takes to the streets, Charnier coincidentally spots him and has him kidnapped. As a means of both torture and embarrassment, the druglord hooks Doyle on heroin for three weeks and then abandons him at the gates of police headquarters. A lengthy and painful rehabilitation is weathered (conducted without official doctors so as to avoid records), leaving the hardened officer mentally and physically pulverized – and itching for harsher revenge against his longtime nemesis.
John Frankenheimer has an impressive filmography and “French Connection II” isn’t without adequate direction. The screenplay is lacking, however, even though the chemistry between disgruntled Inspector Barthelemy and the crabbed Doyle is effectually effortless. A large section of the film is devoted entirely to Doyle’s heroin recovery, which, while astonishingly realistic, drags the movie to overlong proportions (running 15 minutes longer than its counterpart). The seemingly never-ending pursuit of “Frog One” doesn’t present any new material, except for the standard botched investigations and apprehensions. And the French police are always outmanned, outgunned, and unprepared for Charnier and his machinegun-equipped crew of smugglers. The whole film is essentially one long chase, separated by constant disagreements and politics between nationalities. The moments in between the action are too slow, with the elementary story unable to sensibly make up for such a decrease in momentum. Nevertheless, it’s a nice way to wrap things up for the unforgettable cinematic heavy that is Popeye Doyle.
– Mike Massie