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With: J.K. Simmons, Sullivan Stapleton, Charlie Bewley, Sylvia Hoeks, Joshua Henry, Diarmaid Murtagh, Dimitri Leonidas, Clemens Schick, Ewen Bremner, Peter Davor, Mahamadou Coulibaly
Written by: Richard Wenk, Luc Besson
Directed by: Steven Quale
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, brief sexuality and language
Running Time: 106
Date: 12/20/2018

American Renegades (2018)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Liquid Gold

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Another of Luc Besson's compact, lightweight, inconsequential action movies, this one has a bit too much trumpeting bravado, but ultimately finds its way and provides a measure of silly, breezy fun.

In American Renegades, a flashback to WWII shows a young boy in Bosnia escaping from the Nazis and coming upon a stolen cache of gold; the resistance blows up a dam, and all the gold ended up under a deep lake. Years later, that boy's granddaughter Lara (Sylvia Hoeks) has been spending time with Stanton (Charlie Bewley), one of a team of Navy SEALs stationed there.

She shows him a gold bar that she retrieved from her grandfather's hiding place and asks him if he and his crew can help bring up some $300 million worth of gold from the lake; she hopes to use half of it to help her community. So the SEALs devise a crazy plan to get all the gold in one night, but they must do it under the nose of a cunning commanding officer (J.K. Simmons). More trouble comes when Lara's thieving brother finds the gold bar, and the Serbian army is alerted.

Co-written and co-produced by Besson and directed by Steven Quale, American Renegades was released a year earlier in Europe with the shorter title Renegades and did not perform well. So the "American" was added for its U.S. release. It's fitting. There's a strong machismo that supposedly justifies the American characters's behavior; this includes anything from destroying half a Bosnian town with a stolen tank, to flicking a lighted match at a tablefull of locals in a bar.

The trumpeting score adds to this effect, but once the story of the gold recovery gets going, American Renegades starts to turn on the fun. The screenplay throws some interesting obstacles in the characters' paths, and the main characters' camaraderie begins to click, while the underwater cinematography during the heist is often impressive.

Best of all is that simple, peppy Besson touch that is impossible to take very seriously. And just as the movie seems like it's going to lag, Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons appears, barking his entertainingly edgy dialogue and saving the day.

In early 2019, Lionsgate released a fine Blu-ray edition. Picture and sound (DTS-HD 5.1) are above average. Optional subtitles are available. Bonuses include four behind-the-scenes featurettes, running 10-12 minutes apiece: "Covert Operations: Story and Cast," "Keeping It Real: Production and Shooting on Location," "Can-Do Attitude: Stunts, Weapons, and Vehicles," and "Underwater Adversity: A Deep-Dive Heist." There are also trailers at startup.

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