J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

American Renegades: Navy SEALs Pull a Caper for Bosnia

Navy SEALs are terrific at overthrowing dictators and re-establishing peace, but they are not so skilled at nation-building. However, this team is willing to do a little outside-the-box thinking. The plan (half-baked though it might be) is to recover 300 million dollars-worth of Nazi gold for Bosnian reconstruction efforts—minus their cut. Of course, the clock is ticking and the Bosnian Serbs are out for payback in Steven Quale’s American Renegades (trailer here), which opens this Friday in select theaters.

It gets a little messy, but Matt Barnes’ SEAL team manages to capture and extract a Serbian general right under the noses of his men. The getting in is easy, the getting out involves a tank battle on the streets of mid-1990s Sarajevo. Levin, the joint-operational commander, pretends to rebuke them, but it is definitely a wink-wink-nudge-nudge reprimand. Yet, there are presumably limits to his indulgence. Therefore, the SEALs will do their best to keep it on the downlow when they agree to run an off-the-books mission with both altruistic and mercenary motives.

Stanton Baker, Barnes’ next-in-command has fallen in love with Lara Simic, a local woman working as a waitress, who hopes to help support her country’s reconstruction with her newly incorporated non-profit. She also has some creative fund-raising ideas. As a young boy, her grandfather saw exactly where the National Socialists locked away a shipment of plundered French gold. Shortly thereafter, the resistance blew the local damn, submerging the gold under a new, picturesque lake. Of course, Barnes and his men are at their best under water.

In contrast, this film works much better when it is on dry land. Frankly, the opening action sequence is a lot of rollicking good fun, but the underwater sequences are problematically murky. We can often see when two people are fighting, but we can only hope a good guy wins, whichever one he might be.

Still, you have to give co-screenwriters Luc Besson and Richard Wenk credit for choosing sides, unlike the Peacemaker, which featured a deliberately vague “Balkan” terrorist. In this case, the Bosnians are on the side of the angels and the villains are Serbian, so just deal with it. It is also worth noting that Besson and his French film company EuropaCorp have produced probably the most sympathetic depiction of the American military released in theaters this year.

As you might expect, the best part of the film is J.K. Simmons strutting, bellowing, and just generally hamming it up as Levin. He is always fun to watch and Strike Back’s Sullivan Stapleton makes a nicely understated foil in their scenes together. Unfortunately, there is a lot of time wasted on requisitioning gear and that sort of housekeeping business.

Thanks to Simmons, American Renegades will be a pleasant streaming distraction, but there is nothing special about it as an action movie. We appreciate its respect for the American military personnel who served during the Balkan conflict, but most viewers can wait until it hits iTunes on December 25th (making the Yuletide bright). In the meantime, it opens this Friday (12/21) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

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