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Given the commercial and critical success of director Dany Boon's earlier film Welcome to the Sticks, it is peculiar that his next project, Nothing to Declare, endured a straight-to-DVD release in France. This is despite its superb sense of humour, engaging interplay between characters and generally fun, light-hearted feel.
The story, set in 1993, centres on the racist, trigger-happy Belgian Ruben (Benoit Poelvoorde), who is paired up against his will with Frenchman Mathias (Boon) in their effort to police the Franco-Belgian border. Compounding the strenuous partnership is the fact that Mathias is secretly dating overprotective Ruben's sister (Julie Bernard). Also intertwined in the story is the oafish Jacques and trying wife Irene, who turn to smuggling contraband between the borders to make ends meet, as well as the world's most incompetent drug ring and their short-tempered boss.
Right off the bat, it's clear that Boon has a talent for ensemble directing. Although he and Poelvoorde share the lead, each fringe character enjoys ample screen time to tell their story and draw audience engagement, while all potential loose ends are appropriately tied up without leaving any individual's fate hanging in the balance.
Humour is consistent throughout Nothing to Declare. Following a slow start, the film employs varying instances of physical, visual and verbal comedy, the latter of which is accentuated by the consistently tense, tight interplay between certain pairs of characters. The arguable highlight occurs as the criminals attempt to disguise their van as an ambulance for the purpose of drug smuggling, but honourable mentions must also go to Ruben's crude, xenophobic dad and the 'pimping-out' of Mathias's patrol car.
Boon casually addresses the fine line between patriotism and racism with this film but, like all good comedies, it permits pure entertainment to take priority, without falling into the trap of becoming too preachy, political or divisive.
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