Not many French sex comedies open with a speedboat crashing through a beach shack. Or climax with a car ploughing through glass doors and a one-against-the-mob punch-up worthy of Jackie Chan. But then not many sex comedies star Jean-Paul Belmondo, France's premier action daredevil. Ya boi J.P.B. plays industrial tycoon Stéphane Margelle, an incorrigible womanizer. Left alone one Easter weekend while his wife Sophie (Marie Laforêt, who the same year starred opposite Belmondo in Les Morfalous) is away, Stéphane zeroes in on beautiful young Julie (Sophie Marceau) as his next conquest. Only for Sophie to return home unexpectedly right as Stéphane is about to seal the deal with Julie. Desperate for a cover story, Stéphane somehow convinces Sophie the young woman is really his hitherto unmentioned daughter from a previous marriage! Julie plays along mostly to have some fun and see how long Stéphane can maintain this outrageous lie. Before long this one fib spirals beyond Stéphane’s control trapping him in a web of lies.
Admittedly a middle aged man trying to seduce a sexy teenager remains a dubious conceit from whence to extrapolate entertainment. Evolving attitudes and cultural differences likely leave Joyeuses Pacques (Happy Easter) a tough sell for today's audiences. However, despite the opening montage with Jean-Paul Belmondo scoring with various topless lovelies (set to a synth and sleazy sax score by the great Philippe Sarde) the film quite clearly makes his roguish character the butt of the joke. The viewer is meant to delight in seeing this live-action Pepé Le Pew get his comeuppance while at the same time perhaps guiltily savour the shameless lengths to which he will go to cover his tracks. Powered by a super-charged performance by Belmondo, who capers as though electricity were coursing through his body, seemingly intent on upstaging not just co-stars but the stunning St. Tropez scenery, Joyeuses Pacques bucks the odds as an admittedly slight yet amiable sex farce.
By all rights Stéphane should be a detestable rogue yet Belmondo, working with a witty script co-written by Jean Poiret (author of the original stage-play), makes him an affable and oddly empathetic sort. Beneath the suntan and playboy facade he is hopelessly insecure even vulnerable. Similarly Poiret's writing combines with the sparkling performance delivered by a young Sophie Marceau to elevate Julie above a mere clichéd and crass adolescent lust object. At the time Marceau was the bright young thing of French cinema, having won hearts as the lovelorn adolescent heroine of La Boum (1980). Julie sees right through Stéphane's corny Casanova act and comical pick-up lines from frame one and proves a match for him at every turn. What begins as a relatively manageable lie balloons to ludicrous proportions. Partly because Julie can't resist luring the old goat down a deeper hole though also, as the story hints, because Stéphane keeps getting carried away with spinning outrageous lies.
Georges Lautner, then in the midst of a blockbuster run of Belmondo vehicles including the action-comedies Flic ou voyou (1978) and Le Guignolo (1979) and stark thriller Le Professionel (1981) (their next collaboration would be the murder mystery Stranger in the House (1992)), peppers the plot with big action set-pieces (multiple car chases plus J.P.B's trademark cling-to-the-side-of-a-helicopter bit) that don't entirely gel with an otherwise conventional sex farce. Alongside the genre regulation Benny Hill style fast-motion chases Lautner also makes repeated use of a flashy reverse-time device that while fun could have been integrated into the story better. What does charm is Stéphane's phony paternal feelings gradually evolving into the real thing alongside Julie delving beyond the former's playboy facade to discern the kindly, caring man underneath. Further echoing Jackie Chan films, the closing credits play over a montage of flubbed lines and stunts gone wrong.