Wednesday 3 January 2018

Submarines: "Renegades"

Early January traditionally brings its unfair share of DVD-bound multiplex filler, hustled onto our screens to make even the season's flatter awards fare seem newly distinguished. This year, Luc Besson's EuropaCorp has unloaded Renegades, a dumbo 90-minute duck-and-dive - written by Besson with genre hack Richard Wenk (Vamp), and directed by Stephen Quale of the almost instantly forgotten Into the Storm - about US marines hunting Nazi gold at the bottom of a lake in war-torn Yugoslavia. If the film serves any lasting purpose, it'll be as a lesson in the economics of modern film production. Here is a B-movie that looks surprisingly expensive - moving from a prologue that must have shut down central Paris for a morning or so to an evocation of the widespread carnage of Bosnia as it was in the mid-1990s - until you realise there will be no star names forthcoming in the lead roles, just interchangeable alpha himbos, buzzcuts in camouflage gear, who prove constitutionally unable to outline interesting or engaging characters. (The one recognisable face on parade is that of J.K. Simmons, picking up a post-Oscar payday doing an R. Lee Ermey routine as the grunts' office-bound commanding officer.) 

Some will question the co-opting of ethnic cleansing as the backdrop to a mindless actioner - it wouldn't be the first time a EuropaCorp production has rubbed up against the boundaries of taste - but it's soon clear Renegades intends to occupy similar territory to The Dirty Dozen or Kelly's Heroes, providing brain-in-neutral distraction for those still struggling to get out from under a New Year's hangover. The caper that follows is mild by comparison, to say the least, but there are sporadic flickers of something approaching fun. You can't help but chuckle when our heroes drive a tank thirty feet off a bridge into a river rather than submit to the local beady-eyed ne'er-do-well; likewise at the brazenness of the scene in which these yahoos earnestly discuss their plans to use the gold to rebuild nearby schools and thoroughfares, as if Ted Nugent had suddenly been recast as New Deal Roosevelt. (Snoozing viewers, meanwhile, are meant to be stirred by a narratively superfluous dust-up with an SAS interloper, amusingly scored to Ini Kamoze's "Here Comes the Hotstepper".)

Yet any affection for Renegades' old-school methodology has long been muffled, come the closing credits, by its overriding - and overridingly dull - business sense. As a writer-director, Besson remains a distinctive if wayward talent, as 2014's Lucy and last summer's megaflop Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets established. His producer credits, alas, continue to ape the lamest kind of Hollywood thinking. Quale's drill-and-paddle finale is one long, watery yawn - a literal damp squib, fired off in a murky municipal pool - but even the hour that precedes it has, as with much recent EuropaCorp fodder, been edited in such a way to elide any possibility of sex or violence, and thereby secure the 12A rating that presumably tempts in gullible teens with Christmas pocket money to squander. That audience might emit the odd ironic snicker at the onscreen action when they're not fielding What's App alerts, but more seasoned onlookers will likely be driven to flat despair, once again, at the sight of a notionally commercial cinema determining to cut all the juicy, glistening trash out of what should have been one of its trashier pleasures.

Renegades opens in selected cinemas from Friday, ahead of its DVD release on February 26. 

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