Romain Gavras’ “The World Is Yours” might take its title from a certain gangster classic — or its blood-soaked Brian De Palma remake, which only made a life of crime seem that much cooler — but this wildly infectious French heist comedy is pretty much the anti-“Scarface.” A hyper-stylish and unexpectedly sweet rebuke to the idea that screwing people is a good way to get ahead, Gavras’ second feature manages the almost impossible task of mining something nice from the me-first mentality that’s been sweeping across modern Europe. It’s “Sexy Beast,” “Spring Breakers,” and “Little Miss Sunshine” all blended together and served with a lad-rock swagger; it’s the best movie that Guy Ritchie never made.
Whereas Tony Camonte (or Tony Montana) came to the game as a refugee looking to make a name for himself, François (Karim Leklou) was born into a dog-eat-dog underworld full of killers and cheats.. François’ mom, Dany, (the great Isabelle Adjani), is a pathological con artist and expert safecracker — a thief so consumed by her own self-interest that she pulls off a robbery by using her own son as an unwitting prop. François’s dad isn’t in the picture anymore, but a conspiracy theorist named Henri (a hilarious Vincent Cassel) is happy to play the part, if only because he has a huge crush on Dany.
But sometimes the apple does fall a bit far away from the tree. Hardly the kind of intimidating badass who might command respect (or inspire fear) from a community of lowlifes and mobsters, François is pudgy and polite. His mom insists that he needs to cheat others before they cheat him, but our boy isn’t down for that. “I’m not out to fuck anyone,” he meekly replies. François isn’t cut out for the cutthroat stuff — while others lust for power and sway, all he wants is a shitty house with a pool outside and someone to share it with him. Ideally, that someone would be Lamya (“Divines” star Oulaya Amamra), a spunky Muslim femme fatale who often seems to be channeling Jennifer Love Hewitt’s performance from “Heartbreakers” (a huge compliment, of course).
No idle dreamer, François has a plan: He’s going to become the CEO of a small frozen soft-drink company that operates out of North Africa … or something. The specifics aren’t important — all that matters is that his mom has gambled away the €100,000 he needs to close the deal, and so now he’s gotta do one last heroin-trafficking job for a dog-loving sociopath named Putin.
And he’s gonna need a team. So François sets off to the coast of Spain, bringing along Henri, Lamya, and two gung-ho kids named Mohamed. It all goes wonderfully haywire from there, as “The World Is Yours” somehow comes to involve a Scottish drug lord, his tormented young daughter, a Jewish lawyer, a group of 20 bleached-blond Zairian guys, a karaoke singalong of Toto’s “Africa,” and a live grenade in a Hello Kitty backpack. This strange potpourri is strung together on the strength of André Chémétoff’s glossy cinematography and a bouncy score by Jamie XX and Sebastian (fans of the former will recognize many of the stickiest beats).
The sillier things gets, the more Gavras engages with the political and social realities of a divided Europe. Racism is a constant (most of it levied against the Muslim community), but “The World Is Yours” dares to roll with it, eventually even using it as a weapon against the most prejudiced characters — an immensely satisfying boat raid sequence finds some idiot fishermen mistaking the two Mohameds for wayward migrants, thus opening themselves up to attack. Another killer scene finds our heroes repurposing common stereotypes in order to con the police into helping them out. Friendships are continually forged across national identities and racial lines, as François’ inclusive approach is predicated upon liberating people from whatever oppressive worldview they’ve inhabited from their parents. This stuff is seldom in the foreground, but it’s always sharp as Gavras’ film giddily dances through dangerous material.
It helps that every single one of the performances is extraordinary. Amamra is tough but charming, Leklou is as soft as he needs to be but never a sop, and Cassel delivers a belly laugh with virtually every line (if this were an English-language A24 movie, “We’re all the Illuminati, now” would be on t-shirts tomorrow). The supporting characters are just as strong, each cast to perfection. And Gavras, to his ultimate credit, makes sure that they all get their moments to shine — though nothing tops a late couplet of dream sequences involving the two Mohameds’ respective visions of the future.
As frantic and thrilling as the climactic heist turns out to be, there’s still a sense that Gavras left a little meat on the bone — that he could have done a bit more to flesh out everyone’s fortunes. But “The World Is Yours” is such an intoxicating delight because it still manages to make you care. We’re moved by François’ kindness and the gentle modesty of his dreams. We’re moved by the fact that he actually wants to share them. In crime, as in life, the only way to win is to make sure that everyone gets a cut of the action.
“The World Is Yours” premiered in the Director’s Fortnight of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.