Empty Balcony: Renegades, aka American Renegades

The Luc Besson action mill has turned out some of the most successful action flicks of this century, and also some of the genre’s most overwrought messes. Renegades (released in the States as American Renegades) lies somewhere in between. It has the grandiosity one would expect from a Besson-produced action flick, but the end product is something anonymous.

Sullivan Stapleton stars at Matt Barnes, the leader of a team of Navy SEALs who have been deployed to the Bosnian War in 1995. We first see the team in action as they infiltrate a Serb HQ and snatch a general. This is no subtle incursion. Besson has a brand to protect, and in Steven Quale, he found the right director. The SEAL team may have snuck into the enemy base, but they leave by stealing a tank and blowing up lots of stuff. Mission accomplished.

Back at base the team gets a dressing down from their commanding officer, Rear Admiral Levin (J.K. Simmons, who looked like he was having some fun playing the role). Action flick fans will recognize Simmons’s scenes as being straight out of cop movies. There’s lot of hollering and huffing and puffing. The SEAL team may break the rules, but they get the job done, etc. If the filmmakers had not found the right actor in Simmons to play the admiral, these scenes would have been torturous. They are the most clichéd part of a movie filled with cliché.

One member of the team, Stanton Baker (Charlie Bewley), has struck up a romance with a local tavern owner named Lara Simic (Sylvia Hoeks). She is an idealist. Rather than flee war-torn Bosnia when Baker gets rotated back home, she plans on opening a charitable organization to help rebuild American Renegadesher country after the war ends. She plans to finance this endeavor, surprise surprise, with a stash of Nazi gold that is sitting on the bottom of a nearby lake. How the Nazi gold got there is a bit of nonsense that could only happen in a movie.

Near the end of World War 2, a Nazi commander loaded up some trucks with gold bars to hide from the advancing Allied armies. The convoy left France and ended up in a small town in Bosnia, which was then part of Yugoslavia. The gold was placed in a bank vault, and then the Nazis murdered every person in the town. That same night, Yugoslav partisans blew up a dam upriver from the town, and the resulting flood waters wiped out the Nazis.

Here’s where the whole premise falls apart. The flood waters that were released from the dam inundate the town, as would happen were a dam to burst in real life. But, then, the town remains underwater permanently. The flood waters don’t drain, as they would in real life. Besson and Richard Wenk, who wrote the screenplay, don’t seem to understand that dams create lakes upriver of the dam. They don’t prevent a lake from being formed at its foot, where the town is located in this movie. This is among the dumbest things I’ve seen in a movie in a while. It’s best to just ignore it. No matter how the water got to the town or why it didn’t leave — there’s still Nazi gold down there. Lara enlists the help of her boyfriend and the team to go get it.

Meanwhile, the soldiers under the command of that Serb general who got snatched are pissed, and they are hunting the team down to get some payback. Of course, they get wind of the whole Nazi gold scheme, and the film becomes a race to see who gets the gold first.

So, Renegades is as much a heist flick as it is an action flick. Well, it’s more of a salvage flick, I guess, but it’s still a heist flick.There’s a team of professionals that plan out a robbery (in this case, breaking into a sealed vault that’s underwater); everyone has assigned tasks, from infiltration to getaway; and the intricate plan goes horribly wrong, forcing the protagonists to improvise. This type of stuff has been part of film for decades and decades, and it’s nice to see it alive and well in an unknown action flick.

Quale and company have given us a film with something of a relentless pace, to the point where one can recognize Quale is operating from a formula. Only so much screen time is allowed to elapse before something exciting has to happen. A viewer can almost set a stopwatch by it. This has the bizarre effect of making much of the action feel like filler, when it’s the talky stuff that is supposed to be filler in an action flick. A viewer will not get bored with this flick, though.

What fails this flick isn’t its scale, its pace, or the plot. It’s just that for all the bells and whistles, there’s nothing all that memorable. The entire film is a collection of familiar tropes done in a way that breaks no new ground and never tries. The main characters all resemble actors more accomplished than they are, and the talent matches, to boot.

Renegades is a high-end example of film mediocrity. It came, it entertained, and it went away. In a year, I doubt I’ll remember I even watched this movie.

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