LOVE ME IF YOU DARE — ** — Guillaume Canet, Marion Cotillard; in French, with English subtitles; rated R (sex, profanity, violence).
"Love Me If You Dare" is a toxic, singularly annoying French romance that mistakes a willful, rather sick co-dependency for a pesky case of crazy love experienced by two crazy kids. The fact that it's platonic makes it even crazier.
Director Yann Samuell seems to be oblivious to his peculiar film's innate darkness, giving the whole sad affair a frenetic spin. His camera never stops moving as it careens relentlessly through the lives and fantasies of its two lead characters.
What was charming and inventive in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's "Amelie" is just tiresome here. This film is frantic enough to give the viewer whiplash and, after a while, it makes you feel as if you're being stalked by it.
The story is about a silly yet disturbing childhood game that its potential lovers carry into adulthood. Julien (Thibault Verhaeghe) and Sophie (Josephine Lebas-Joly) meet at school when they are 8 years old. He releases the brake of an unattended bus of school children who have just taunted Sophie for being Polish. The bus rolls down a hill. Scary.
Anyway, Julien and Sophie get bigger and go to college. They are now played by different actors (Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard), but they still behave like 8-year-olds. Julien dares Sophie to attend one of her oral exams wearing her bra and bikini panties on the outside, over her clothing, which makes for an enticing distraction. She, of course, complies. He also tricks her into attending his wedding to another woman and — you guessed it — she dares him to say "no" at the altar.
Eventually, they agree not to see each other for 10 years. Perhaps the idea is to go cold turkey to overcome this perverse addiction. Right? Wrong. They both become involved with other people, but their obsession only grows. The entire film is about how these two deny they were made for each other — a truly frightening thought, if you think about it.
It would help us get through this if the characters developed, even just a little, or if the actors playing them had chemistry and charisma. But Cotillard is unpleasant and Canet is bland. Their characters deserve each other. We don't. "Love Me If You Dare" is the kind of precious whimsy that you want to squash.
"Love Me If You Dare" is rated R for scenes of simulated sex, occasional use of strong sexual profanity, and a scene of vehicular violence. Running time: 94 minutes.