The smoldering phase of Matthias Schoenaerts’ acting career has reached its apex in Michaël R. Roskam’s Racer and the Jailbird. The Belgian actor has yet to break through as a star in America, despite having smoldered with an astonishing range of A-list actresses, including Jennifer Lawrence (Red Sparrow), Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton (A Bigger Splash), and Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone). His partner this time is Adèle Exarchopoulos, who made an arthouse splash in the lesbian love story Blue Is the Warmest Color.
Here, the Belgian actor plays an orphaned bank robber named Gigi. Exarchopoulos is Bibi, a race car driver from a wealthy family. After one of her grand prix events, the two lock eyes across a crowded buffet table — and boom! They’re off to their own R-rated races. Do they ever convince us that they have anything in common besides their nicknames and a hot-bodied chemistry? Not really. But Roskam is intent on making a larger point about loyalty, hence the original French title Le Fidèle. When Gigi gets caught after a heist gone wrong, as all movie gangsters inevitably do, the director asks, “Will Gigi and Bibi stay faithful to each other despite their differences?” Racer and the Jailbird straddles many film genres — suspense, the sporting life, crime, and romance. It’s stylish and occasionally risqué, but unlike its hero and heroine, it refuses to commit to any one of them.
Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinemas.