Let's be very clear about this: 'The French Connection' was a great movie that in no way called for or left itself open to a sequel. After the picture made a lot of money, won a lot of Oscars, and shot Gene Hackman to stardom, somebody at the studio thought it would be a swell idea to cash in on that. Thus, 1975 brought us the imaginatively titled 'French Connection II', in which NYC narcotics detective Popeye Doyle travels to Marseilles to hunt down "Frog No. 1," the drug smuggler who eluded him during the wrenching anticlimax that closed the first movie. We just can't let our hero go without closure, can we?
Original director William Friedkin was either too busy or had the good sense to stay away, so the normally-reliable John Frankenheimer was brought in to replace him. Whereas the first movie was at least loosely based on a true story, the sequel throws away any such pretenses for a purely fictional follow-up. In this one, the racist Doyle clashes with local French police and wanders around incompetently searching for his prey in an unfamiliar land. Eventually, he's kidnapped by the villain Charnier (Fernando Rey, the only other actor to return from the first film), drugged up, and turned into a heroin junkie, just like those he used to abuse.
No doubt it's this middle portion of the movie that interested Hackman the most. Doyle's painful attempts to detox provide a grand acting showcase, and legitimately bring a little depth to this otherwise two-dimensional character. Soon enough, Doyle is back on the case, blowing away any Frenchies that get in the way of his sweet retribution.
Judged strictly on its own terms, 'French Connection II' is a vaguely competent international thriller set in some scenic French coastal locations. As a sequel to 'The French Connection', it's frankly terrible. Gone is all of the gritty authenticity of the original film, replaced with stagy studio sets and merely workmanlike direction from Frankenheimer. The poor script is padded and dull. Almost every scene runs on far too long. The movie just plods along, with no tension whatsoever, even during the few blandly-staged action scenes. There's a lengthy foot chase that's meant to serve as an ironic analogue for the original's brilliant car chase, but even that is only moderately exciting.
Honestly, if not for all the foul language, this looks and feels like a bad TV movie. 'French Connection II' is one pointless sequel that never should have been made.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'French Connection II' comes to Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, released simultaneously with its predecessor 'The French Connection'. The disc is Java-enabled and extremely slow to load in a standalone Blu-ray player. Even the Sony Playstation 3 (usually one of the fastest-loading Blu-ray players) slows to a crawl with this one.
If nothing else, I suppose we should be grateful that William Friedkin had nothing to do with the production of 'French Connection II', and thus had no excuse to impose his ridiculous revisionist color timing changes onto the sequel as he did for the original. The Blu-ray provides 'French Connection II' with a fairly straightforward, mostly faithful transfer.
The opening scene had me worried. The picture starts off very soft and dull, but that may be a problem inherent to the photography. Almost immediately afterwards, the image pops into focus. For the most part, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (presented in its 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio) is bright and clean, with a minimal amount of grain. The movie has a bland photographic style, but detail is well represented throughout.
The colors look a little oversaturated, especially reds. A background extra wearing red pants early in the movie practically glows. Blood also tends to look really fake. With that said, flesh tones look normal, and the majority of colors are certainly more natural than the abominable transfer afforded to the original 'French Connection' Blu-ray.
Like the first movie, the monaural soundtrack for 'French Connection II' has also been remixed into DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround. However, it's clear that the studio didn't put nearly as much work into this one. The track still sounds mostly mono. It has constrained fidelity, dull explosions, and weak gunshots. The music sounds to have been merely processed into fake stereo, rather than remastered from the original recording elements, and comes across stridently.
The original mono mix has also been provided in Dolby Digital 1.0, but I can't say that it sounds any better.
'French Connection II' was previously released on DVD back in 2001 as part of the 'French Connection Collection' box set. The Blu-ray retains all of the bonus features from that disc.
'French Connection II' is a needless sequel that doesn't hold a candle to the original 'French Connection'. The Blu-ray does look pretty good, though, and has a smattering of fairly interesting bonus features. Fans of the original film who just can't live without seeing what happens to Popeye Doyle will want to give this one a rent. Just keep your expectations in check.