It's the same old golden rule that governs heist movies: no matter how well-crafted a plan is, there will come a point where the protagonists will deviate from it. One of the gang being a loose cannon, an accident, a traitor, a mole, bad luck... so many reasons that can be coined in one term: the human factor. And there are a few moments over the course of "Hold-Up" where Grimm, the mastermind of an extremely well-thought heist, sighs and blames that "human factor". But let's face it, without that human factor, there would be no movie.
So, for all the ingenuousness Grimm (Jean-Paul Belmondo) put with his confederates: a longtime partner named George (Guy Marchand) and Lise the Canadian woman they needed for the job (Kim Cattral), they couldn't execute what probably was the simplest part of the plan: getting the hell off the city. Or was it? Again it's just a comedy and all the stuff from the second act that makes the exit from Montreal difficult seems to be there only because the movie needed fifty more minutes to run. Once again who cares about contrivances when it generates funny situations, I didn't but I guess I'm insisting so much on it you might probably find it suspicious.
Let's just say that I wish they could be as well-prepared for the second part of the plan as they were for the first, but at least Grimm knows how to come with a Plan B and after watching the American version "Quick Change", I understand that the original novel written by Jay Cronley was all about a heist that went very well and a getaway that wasn't so easy. The two films had the same pattern and at least "Hold-Up" succeeds better than "Quick Change" in the heist-planning department. The details are so funny, inventive and awesome (especially how they hid the money) that I might not want to spoil them except to say that there is a clown involved and he's played with obvious delight by Belmondo.
And then there's the second act where they try to leave and it's filled with cool-looking but rather formulaic car chases, except one where they find nothing better than crashing the car into another bank, now that was unpredictable. I wished the second act could feature similar scenes. But let's get back to the robbery, it offers Belmondo one of his last occasions to show his hammy side and with a good reason since he's impersonating a clown. And his interactions with the Chief of Police Labrosse with all the taunting and the "call me sonny" exchanges create some extremely funny situations. Labrosse is played by Jean-Pierre Marielle in a very straight way which makes his confrontation with a clown even funnier. That tone makes him the perfect match to the goofy robber.
As George, the dim-witted partner and over-the-top hostage, Guy Marchand is pretty entertaining although it's hard to believe that this guy would be involved in a romance with Lise who is naturally infatuated with Grimm and his cool nature and capability to come up with the right solutions. Kim Cattral doesn't have much to do except from snarking at the misfortune that come to them and ask Grimm to forget about George, which doesn't make her quite likable in a movie asking us to root for the robbers.
But the mother of all their misfortune can be characterized by one guy named Lasky, a huge truck driver who wants his part of the loot and keep tracking our team. Lasky is colorful and the kind of guy we'd love to hate but once again he's the kind of character who seems designed to bring trouble to the others without having a proper existence of his own. His presence is here to enhance the action because well... this is Jean-Paul Belmondo movie. And even his arrest is pretty random when Labrosse says "at least we wouldn't come here for nothing".
A better addition was with the cab driver, played by the late Jacques Villeret, his interactions with Belmondo were fun in a heart-warming way (you could tell he had a soft spot for him) and I was glad that the last act could tie the plot together and reward him in a satisfying way. The film's ending seems a bit far-fetched but it's enough to bring us a little smile especially when we know this is the last we see Belmondo in this kind of picture. Indeed, the film represents the end of an era, the last action flick of Belmondo after a streak of 20 years where he specialized in portraying gangsters or cops or antiheroes and was made famous for doing his own stunts.
One of them almost endangered his life, during the first chase, the tow truck driven by Lasky went through a big pothole and Belmondo hits his head severely on its pulley. That was one of the last straws as he decided later that it was time to get back to his theater roots, especially since the film attracted only 2 millions spectators in France, not bad but not his usual grosses. But for one last time, Belmondo could enjoy playing a sympathetic gangster, being occasionally funny and goofy and badass and straightforward when the plan requires it. It was a nice departure from Alexandre Arcady after three films dedicated to his Algerian roots to have a film set in Montreal (Canada), the "Frenchiest American" town to have Belmondo clowning around for his last hurray.
I enjoyed the film very much as a kid, I loved the idea of a clown being a robber, the shenanigans he put on with the customers and watching the American version, I applaud the fact that they added more inventiveness into the heist... though the getaway part was sketchier. Still an enjoyable action picture from the 80s.