|Writer(s)||Richard Wenk, Luc Besson|
|Release Date||January 5, 2018 (Toronto International Film Festival)|
Co-written and produced by Luc Besson, and starring an interchangeable bunch of square-jawed Navy SEALs, Renegades is a run-of-the-mill gung-ho actioner that serves as an inoffensive, unambitious welcome to 2018.
What’s it about?
Our heroes are roistering U.S. wet-work chaps stationed in Sarajevo during the 1995 Bosnian War. As we’re informed by an elaborate pre-titles sequence set during World War II, there’s a fortune of pilfered Nazi gold sitting at the bottom of a lake. The fellas, whose hearts are apparently as golden as the bullion, scheme to recover the submerged loot and split the take 50/50 with the beautiful Bosnian woman who tipped them off about the stash in the first place.
In the process the boys will kick some war-criminal ass, antagonize the uptight British SAS, help out charitable foundations, and eat kebabs. You know – the usual.
Renegades sounds generic.
You’re right. But the initial 15 minutes seem to have been snatched from a much better movie. It’s a hell of an opening. An undercover double-cross operation that involves a “borrowed” Bosnian tank being wilfully driven off a bridge is right up my street. And then we get a dressing-down from J.K. Simmons in full J. Jonah Jameson mode? Hand me the popcorn. We’re in for a treat.
That feeling didn’t last, did it?
It did not. The film doesn’t manage to maintain the enjoyable silliness of the opening. Or it does, just in entirely the wrong places. After the first act the whole thing pumps the breaks and decides, almost casually, that it’s going to be a heist flick from now on. So we get the usual stuff. Lots of exposition-heavy planning. Montages of equipment procurement. And, of course, some light-hearted soundtrack choices, including an incredibly bizarre fistfight set to Ini Kamoze’s “Here Comes the Hotstepper”.
The problem with Renegades masquerading as a straight-up action flick is that the wisecracking gold-rush caper still ends up being set against the backdrop of actual wartime atrocity and genocide. The Bosnian War isn’t a light-hearted setting. And the fluctuating tone only serves to undermine the drama that’s supposed to keep the whole enterprise moving. The local informant lady – who’s also getting knobbed by one of the SEAL crew – might pay occasional lip service to “her people”, but it hardly seems like enough.
But J.K. Simmons…
Is excellent, yes, but shows up for maybe three scenes. He shares less than five minutes of screen time with the heroes, who I frankly couldn’t tell apart after a while. It isn’t that the movie’s latter stretch is actively bad, just that it takes on a weirdly made-for-TV level of effort and quality. It all amounts to a heartwarming ending that’s kind of cute on principle, but hasn’t really earned any of the emotions it’s expecting you to be feeling.
Is the action good, at least?
It’s okay, although there’s a lot less of it than you might expect. That tank business is pretty spectacular, if nothing else. Eventually, for the third act, things move underwater, for an extended sequence that isn’t quite Thunderball but at the very least isn’t an outright disaster.
It’s far from the worst bit of low-budget genre fare I’ve ever seen, but the film’s original release date was pushed back by two years, and you can see why. It’s an inconsistent and mediocre thing that’ll pass 90 minutes without much fuss, but despite the heist plot at its core, don’t expect to feel any richer for having witnessed it.
- The opening sequence is legitimately excellent.
- J.K. Simmons impresses.
- It's extremely generic.
- The effort to be anything more than standard genre fare just isn't there.
- The inconsistent tone can occasionally be quite off-putting.