“He’s fat and he stinks,” declares a young girl (and budding film critic) upon discovering a sleeping Gérard Depardieu at a bus stop in Mammuth, a wan road comedy with pretensions (themes of guilt and death, a few grainy handheld inserts) that can be jettisoned for the inevitable John Travolta remake. The persistently ubiquitous French star plays a long-locked, leather-jacketed abattoir worker who is given a jigsaw puzzle and an indifferent party on the day of his retirement. Learning that he has to collect employment records from his past jobs to collect full benefits from the state, he kisses his grouchy missus (Yolande Moreau) adieu and mounts his old motorbike for a retrospective quest. The German vehicle’s model gives the movie its title and the former hog butcher his nickname, while his first love (Isabelle Adjani), snatched away from Mammuth in a youthful crash, still appears to him in comforting visions: “Stay as you are…Be happy without me.”
Joint writer-directors Benoît Delépine and Gustave de Kervern, who also starred in their giddily deadpan debut film Aaltra, devised this scenario for Depardieu, and score a few chuckles with broad gags dependent on Mammuth as a doltish primitive: wrestling with shopping carts, bulling his way against a stampede of aged tourists, filching a box of documents that are soon scattered along the highway as he drives obliviously on. But the jokes grow steadily barren: Moreau versus an automated phone menu, Depardieu in a shock-cut mutual masturbation session (carefully framed, but damn my eyes!), a paraplegic woman who lets the itinerant biker watch her pee (“See, the perineum is intact”). The intent of Adjani’s ghostly dialogue is hard to read, but the fatal wound that appears on her face is substantially less macabre than her taut skin. The movie’s deathblow is the casting of poet-artist Miss Ming as Mammuth’s affectless niece, whose twee verse and sculpture make Miranda July seem like a bearer of gravitas. Of course, she’s meant to liberate the old bastard’s heart and mind, and Mammuth mercifully ends before one can decide if ascribing artistic longings to Depardieu’s sad-eyed, slow-riding geezer is sillier than the fleeting suggestion that he’s a virgin.