'The Intouchables': Feel-good tale of two unlikely pals

Perhaps in anticipation of the hard-hearted and the disbelievers, The Intouchables opens with the line "based on true events" scrawled across the screen.

And, in fact, there is a superrich quadriplegic living in Paris, and there is an ex-con from the banlieue - the high-rise projects that ring the city - who went to work feeding and dressing the millionaire with the broken back. Divided by class, culture, and ethnicity, the two men, improbably but inspirationally, became fast friends.

And in The Intouchables, the fast friends drive around in a fast car, eluding cops and just missing pedestrians, like partners in a Seine-side Lethal Weapon.

Directed and written by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, The Intouchables stars François Cluzet (the pediatrician caught up in Hitchcockian hugger-mugger in the thriller Tell No One). He's Philippe, a wealthy Parisian, paralyzed from the neck down in a paragliding accident. It also stars Omar Sy, a gangly, charismatic French African comedian, popular for his sketch-comedy TV series and now even more so for this feel-good smasheroo. He's Driss, a petty criminal who moved to France from Senegal, and who talks his way into a position in Philippe's manse, not knowing what he's getting into.

It's Earth Wind & Fire vs. Vivaldi. It's weed vs. wine. It's the classic odd-couple buddy movie setup, only it'll pull at your heartstrings, whether you want it too or not.

And you won't want it to, because it's sap.

It's easy to see the appeal of The Intouchables in France: Here's a sometimes farcical, sometimes poignant tale of rich and poor, Sorbonne-schooled and street smart, coming together in peace, harmony, and understanding. Never mind that white France and its African and Arab citizens are still trying to heal the wounds from centuries of colonial rule, and that a kind of societal segregation still very much exists. Here's a fantasy everybody can embrace.

Will it be embraced here?

If the Weinstein Co., which worked box-office and Oscar wonders with another French export, The Artist, can get people into the theaters, then the answer is yes. Make that oui.

Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.


The Intouchables

Directed by Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano. With Cyril Mendy, Alba-Gaïa Kraghede Bellugi, Grégoire Oestermann, Anne Le Ny, Clotilde Mollet, Christian Améri, Marie-Laure Descoureaux, Audrey Fleurot, Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy. Distributed by The Weinstein Company.

Running time: 1 hours, 52 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for language and some drug use).