"Point Blank" starts off literally with a bang. A pair of steel doors crash open, and a panicked man on the run from two gun-wielding thugs bursts out toward the audience.

From there, the French action film does not let up. It's an exciting and efficient "Fugitive"-style thriller that hurtles its protagonist through 84 minutes of narrow escapes, wild chases and double crosses, leaving him (and the audience) breathless at the end.

That panicked man in the opening sequence is Hugo Sartet (Roschdy Zem), a master safecracker caught in the middle of a job. During his escape, Sartet is seriously injured in a car accident and taken to a local hospital for treatment.

While recuperating, Sartet is the victim of an assassination attempt, saved only by the quick thinking of a nurse's aide on staff, Samuel (Gilles Lellouche). But Samuel's moment as a hero is short-lived; another set of criminals kidnap Samuel's very pregnant wife (Elena Anaya) and demand that Samuel smuggle Sartet out of the heavily guarded hospital, or she dies.

That makes the nurse's aide now a fugitive on the run with Sartet, and part of the fun of writer-director Fred Cavayé's fleet-footed film is that we're never sure where the next threat to Samuel will come from: the criminals controlling his moves or the cops determined to hunt him down. And then there's the ruthless Sartet, who may be an ally to Samuel for exactly as long as he needs to be, and no more. As Samuel tries to stay one step ahead of everyone, he learns that he's caught in a larger conspiracy.

"Point Blank," which has no connection to the 1967 Lee Marvin film of the same name, charges forward relentlessly, as Samuel rushes from a tense shootout in an apartment to a wild foot chase that includes a trip down a packed escalator — down a packed "up" escalator, I might add — and into the Paris Metro. It culminates in a bravura climax in which Samuel, after running from the cops for much of the film, has to break into police headquarters undetected.

Cavayé, who made the similarly themed "Anything for Her," remade in America as "The Next Three Days" with Russell Crowe, knows how to film action, keeping the pace frenetic while always clearly delineating what's happening so the audience doesn't get lost.

But he always grounds the action in emotion, in this case the terrified Samuel's desperation to get his wife back. Lellouche has the sort of battered face that probably gets him lots of work in villain roles, but here he effectively plays an ordinary guy surrounded by much more dangerous characters, and pushed beyond his limits.

My only quibble with "Point Blank" is that at 84 minutes, it's over too quickly; you wish Cavayé could have found one more twist at the end to keep things going. Then again, there's nothing wrong with a film's running time being as lean and mean as its plot.

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