The Intouchables (M)

Stars Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy; directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano; 112 minutes.

Philippe (Francois Cluzet) is a wealthy Parisian with a love of classical music he can, and does, indulge. But all is not rosy. He's also a widower, the father of a bratty teenage daughter and a quadriplegic, the result of a paragliding accident. And he's lonely.

Driss (Omar Sy) is an African immigrant with a messy personal life, who's just been released from a prison sentence for robbery.

The Intouchables is the story of how these two very different men come together and how the experience enriches both their lives. Philippe is seeking a live-in carer and Driss applies, initially just to be able to claim social-security benefits, but something in his chutzpah appeals to Philippe over all the well-qualified and professionally compassionate candidates, and he's offered the job. Reluctantly, Driss accepts.

Cluzet and Driss make what could be annoying, unsympathetic characters likeable. Their relationship, the heart of the film, is convincing and touching without becoming overly sentimental, which is also a tribute to Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, who co-wrote and co-directed. Driss's directness helps his employer engage a bit more with the world: he's particularly helpful in speeding along a pen-pal relationship with a woman Philippe is reluctant to meet face-to-face.

Although it is based on fact, it's hard to say how much reality there is in The Intouchables. There are a lot of familiar, even cliched, elements: the stuffy rich white guy who loosens up under the influence of the impoverished-but-cool black dude, the male bonding, the shenanigans, the concealing of hurt and pain under a mask of courage and pride. It's still a good movie, with excellent performances by its lead actors that make the characters live even when the script resorts to been-there-before scenes such as a high-speed drive stopped by a cop, a terrifying-exhilarating experience (another paragliding flight), and a shared joint. Maybe all this happened just as it's depicted here, but I'm sceptical.

The mostly understated tone does help, although sometimes the film feels slightly too elliptical. Still, it works quite well without spelling everything out, but the departure and return near the end felt a bit garbled.

While not a great movie, The Intouchables is a touching and sometimes funny experience. Philippe and Driss are good company for two hours, even if their story feels as though it's already been ''Hollywooded'' up somewhat. If there is an American adaptation (as there is for many French movies) they won't need to change all that much.