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"EVERYBODY'S FAMOUS!"
(2000) (Josse De Pauw, Eva Van Der Gucht) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: Hoping for a better life for his teenage daughter, a recently laid off factory worker kidnaps a popular singer demanding that his girl be given a similar shot at stardom in the music business.
PLOT:
Jean Vereecken (JOSSE DE PAUW) is a forty-five-year-old factory worker who, along with his wife, Chantal (GERT PORTAEL), enjoys watching their overweight, seventeen-year-old daughter, Marva (EVA VAN DER GUCHT), compete in various local singing contests, although she never gets high scores. It's not that Marva has a bad voice. It's just that she wants to be a pop sensation like Debbie (THEKLA REUTEN), her country's most popular singer.

Jean believes he can change that and thus sets out to write a hit song for her. The problem, however, is that he can't write music and can only hum his awful sounding ditties into a tape recorder. Things take a turn for the worse, though, when Jean's coworker, Willy Van Outreve (WERNER DE SMEDT), informs him that their factory is closing and that they've lost their jobs.

To top it off, Jean's car breaks down, but he finally gets a break when a friendly and helpful young woman comes to his aid. Suddenly realizing that it's none other than Debbie herself, Jean impulsively decides to drug her with some prescription sleeping pills he's just picked up and take her to a remote house where he can think about the rest of his plan. Called to the scene, Willy is shocked by Jean's actions, but reluctantly agrees to help when Jean says their hostage could be the solution to their problem.

Accordingly, he calls Debbie's manager, Michael Jansen (VIKTOR LOW), and arranges for them to meet where Jean plays him the recording of his humming and gives the amused man a week to put both music and lyrics to the tune. Meanwhile, Debbie puts her charms on Willy, even getting him to retrieve her dog and remove her bindings.

As the hostage situation continues to unfold, however, things begin to play out differently than most would expect as the involved parties bring unexpected demands to the table. Realizing that Jean is nothing but an amateur, Michael agrees to turn Marva into a star as long as he continues to hold Debbie hostage since her songs are now selling better than ever. From that point on, Jean does what he can to make sure that his daughter has a shot at becoming famous and making him proud.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
In 1986's "Ruthless People," the characters played by Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater are at the end of their rope and so decide to kidnap a wealthy businessman's wife to get a hefty ransom, but also their revenge on him for stealing their clothing design. The twist on the typical kidnapping yarn, however, was that the "victims" were more ruthless than the hopeless but determined criminals, and that led to some rather funny scenarios, gags and big laughs.

Perhaps taking his cue from the film - or at least inspired by its plot - Flemish writer/director Dominique Deruddere has crafted "Everybody's Famous!" a generally amusing but featherweight film that could be called "Ruthless People Lite." That's not only because this Oscar-nominated picture (for Best Foreign Language film) is more good-natured and less nasty than its predecessor, but also because the general plot isn't as complex or imaginative in its construction.

That's not to say that it's unpleasant, however, as Deruddere ("Hombres Complicados," "Crazy Love") and his cast succeed in delivering an enjoyable little picture that grows better, or at least grows on you, as it proceeds. From the early moments where the protagonist - entertainingly played with gusto by Josse De Pauw ("Wildscut," "Hombres Complicados") - delights himself by humming his latest song - which initially sounds quite awful - into a tape recorder, we know we're not dealing with rocket scientists or professional criminals.

That, of course, leads to various humorous scenes where he attempts to be the most proficient kidnapper that he can imagine or muster. That fact that he's so bad and careless that he could be caught at any moment, but never is, initially appears to be a flaw. Yet, that's just part of the filmmaker's design in setting up some of the film's humor.

Whereas "Ruthless" was a broad comedy that added layer upon inspired layer of funny and often hilarious developments and complications, Deruddere's effort never really swings for the cinematic fences, so to speak. Instead, the filmmaker confidently allows the smaller comedic moments to build cumulatively into an amiable and generally entertaining, albeit small scale picture.

The plot structure itself never really generates any big laughs, but instead allows for the various individual moments to work their magic over us. Of course, for that to happen the performances and timing have to be just right, and for the most part that fortunately occurs here.

As the main kidnapper and mastermind behind the plot to give his daughter a better life, De Pauw hits the right notes. That is, at least as far as his acting is concerned, but not his character's humming or choice of attire, both of which are intentionally and humorously quite awful. The fun is in watching him generally being unassumingly foolish along with his reactions to the various developments that pop up regarding his quest.

Eva Van Der Gucht (making her debut and singing her own songs) is good as his overweight daughter who's bored with competing but has a great sounding voice, while Werner De Smedt ("Gaston's War") is funny as his reluctant partner-in-crime who inevitably and predictably falls for their hostage. She's played by Thekla Reuten ("The Black Meteor," "De Trip van Teetje"), while Viktor Low ("Antonia's Line," "Character") gives a good comedic turn as her ruthless business manager who will do anything to keep sales of his artists' work running high.

Although the film doesn't contain as many crowd-pleasing twists or complications as most would probably like to see and isn't as funny as it could and should have been, it's generally amusing and entertaining enough to warrant a passing grade.

That's despite the concluding song - to which the film's storyline progressively builds up to - that's so catchy, yet so bad, that it's likely to become embedded in your psyche to the point that you'll be humming it days later whether you want to or not. That turns out to be a terrific marketing ploy, as you consequently won't forget its accompanying film. "Everybody's Famous!" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed May 25, 2001 / Posted July 20, 2001

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