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On Blu-ray/DVD: AMERICAN RENEGADES (2018) and ASHER (2018)

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AMERICAN RENEGADES
aka RENEGADES
(France/Germany/Belgium - 2017; US release 2018)


Remember the Luc Besson-produced Navy SEALs actioner RENEGADES that was supposed to hit theaters in the summer of 2016? Distributor STX kept bouncing its release date around (a local Cinemark multiplex near me had a RENEGADES poster in a Coming Soon display for most of 2016) and by late 2017, removed it from the schedule completely. While it played everywhere else in the world in 2017, it didn't open in the US until the last week of 2018, unceremoniously dumped in a handful of theaters and on VOD by the financially-strapped EuropaCorp and sporting the nostalgically jingoistic, Cannon-esque retitling AMERICAN RENEGADES. That's probably not quite what everyone involved in this $75 million production had in mind, but looking at it now, it's not difficult to see why it panned out that way. AMERICAN RENEGADES is lugubrious, dead-on-arrival dud that must rank among the dullest men-on-a-mission military actioners you'll ever see. In a prologue set in 1944 Nazi-occupied France, German officers confiscate priceless art and 2000 bars of gold and move them to a secret vault in a bank in the small Yugoslav town of Grahovo. Local partisans exact revenge on the Nazis by blowing up a dam and destroying the village. 50 years later (1994 period detail is largely limited to a fight scene set to Ini Kamoze's "Here Comes the Hotstepper"), an elite team of Navy SEALs led by Matt Barnes (STRIKE BACK's Sullivan Stapleton) and Stanton Baker (Charlie Bewley) extract war criminal Gen. Milic (Peter Davor) from his Sarajevo stronghold and turn him over to their commander, Adm. Levin (J.K. Simmons, cast radically against type as "J.K. Simmons"). Meanwhile, Baker is romantically involved with local bar server Lara (Sylvia Hoeks), who informs him that her grandfather was one of the Yugoslav partisans who blew up the dam and that the 2000 gold bars are safely nestled in the ruins of the bank, now 150 feet down in an area lake. She offers Baker and the rest of the team a deal: the gold is currently valued at $300 million, half of which is theirs if they can use their SEAL skills to retrieve it, with her ultimate goal to give $150 million to the displaced and the suffering in war-torn Bosnia. They go along with the plan, but only have 36 hours to pull it off since Adm. Levin has decided to ship them back home, as pro-Milic insurgents have put a price on all their heads.





There have been countless "men-on-a-mission" movies going back to the 1960s. How does this KELLY'S HEROES premise not work? Well, if you're co-writers Besson and Richard Wenk (THE EXPENDABLES 2, THE EQUALIZER), you come up with tired one-liners that clang to the ground and if you're director Steven Quale (FINAL DESTINATION 5, INTO THE STORM), you handle the action scenes as lifelessly as possible, with half the movie taking place underwater where it's impossible to tell what's going on. It also doesn't help that, with the exception of Bewley because his character is involved with Hoeks' Lara, there's almost nothing to differentiate any of the square-jawed SEALs on the team. Top-billed Stapleton registers zero (remember how he was the star of the 300 prequel and had it stolen right out from under him by Eva Green?) and the climax only comes to life once they're above water and have their asses saved by a hot-dogging chopper pilot improbably played by Ewen "Spud from TRAINSPOTTING" Bremner. Simmons had just won his WHIPLASH Oscar when this began filming in the spring of 2015, and he's clearly bringing some of that demeanor to this, as his bloviating admiral provides an R. Lee Ermey-esque spark when he's chewing out the SEALs. AMERICAN RENEGADES looks like a pretty expensive, large scale action movie, but the script needed some punching up, the actions sequences need more energy, and the cast needed to be populated by more engaging actors than Sullivan Stapleton and Charlie Bewley. (PG-13, 105 mins)



ASHER
(US - 2018)


A longtime pet project for producer/star Ron Perlman, ASHER is the kind of indie that probably would've gotten some film festival accolades and ended up being a modest sleeper hit 15 years ago, but in 2018, it's inevitably relegated to the VOD scrap heap. It's really no great shakes, and fans of the '80s TV series BEAUTY AND THE BEAST already know that Perlman can play someone with a soft side, but ASHER is really just a harmless, low-key character piece that's a nice showcase for the more introspective side of a veteran actor who's spent most of his career under a ton of makeup or playing ruthless bad guys. Perlman is Asher, a disciplined, loner hit man for Brooklyn-based Jewish crime boss Avi (a kvetching Richard Dreyfuss). Spending most of his time in solitude listening to old records, cooking, and enjoying fine wine when he isn't on jobs assigned to him by his dry-cleaning handler Abram (Ned Eisenberg), Asher feels the years catching up with him, especially since Avi's only been using him sparingly and giving all the prime jobs to his younger ex-protege Uziel (Peter Facinelli). Bullet fragments remaining in his back from years earlier have affected his blood and weakened his heart, and when an out-of-order elevator forces him to walk six floors up for a hit, he's sweating profusely and so winded that chest pains cause him to collapse in the doorway of the target's neighbor, Sophie (Famke Janssen). Sensing his own mortality and wanting more to his life than killing people, Asher takes tentative steps toward romancing Sophie, a ballet teacher who's preoccupied with taking care of her dementia-stricken mother (Jacqueline Bisset). It isn't long before Asher finds both his and Sophie's lives are in danger when Avi gets word of an attempted coup by his own men, something Asher knows nothing about but is lumped in with the guilty when Avi decides to bring in a new crew to clean house and wipe out his old one.






Watching ASHER, I couldn't help but be reminded of the Ben Kingsley/Tea Leoni-starring YOU KILL ME, another generally light-hearted hit man comedy from a decade or so ago. It's all very familiar, but in the hands of a journeyman pro like Michael Caton-Jones (MEMPHIS BELLE, THIS BOY'S LIFE, ROB ROY, THE JACKAL, and uh, BASIC INSTINCT 2), ASHER is happily content to be what it is. Perlman is excellent as the tried-and-true "hitman with a heart of gold" who;s so old school that he still presses his clothes and shines his shoes before heading out on a hit. He feels like a relic surrounded by increasingly younger colleagues, including loud and arrogant new guy Lyor (Guy Burnet), who's introduced mouthing off to Asher and mocking his heart problem, to which Asher replies "Is this your first job? You'll probably be the one who fucks everything up." Jay Zaretsky's script indulges in some humor that ranges from dark to quirky, whether it's Sophie, who has no idea what Asher does for a living, telling him that her mother wants to die and jokingly suggesting that he kill her, or the amusing sight of Dreyfuss' Avi dishing up steaming bowls of matzah ball soup for his goons. Other than one truly awful CGI explosion that looks like stock footage from a 25-year-old Bulgarian action movie, ASHER is an enjoyable and often sweet look at a lifelong old soul looking for something more in his twilight years. It isn't anything deep and meaningful, but the two stars are very appealing together, and it's a must-see if you're a Ron Perlman fan. (R, 104 mins)



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