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Renegade

The "Peyote Western" genre pioneered by Jim Jarmusch with the phenomenal Dead Man gets a high-style reworking by Jan Kounen in his long-awaited Renegade (aka Blueberry, 2004). "Loosely adapted", as the opening credits insist, on a comic book by Jean "Moebius" Giraud, the film marks Kounen's first feature in nearly seven years since he made a stylishly bloody splash with the heist picture Dobermann (1997). Reuniting with star Vincent Cassel, Kounen endeavors to tell the hallucinogenic tale of Mike S. Blueberry, a U.S. Marshal haunted by an incident in his aimless youth, which found him caught up in a whorehouse shootout with an outlaw named Wally Blount (Michael Madsen) that left a young prostitute dead. He survived only through the healing efforts of a Native American tribe, which raised him as one of their own. Therefore, his subsequent split loyalty between the Caucasian and Native American races makes his position as a lawman a particularly treacherous tightrope-walk, especially when Blount returns to plunder a gold stockpile stowed away in the Indians' "Superstition Mountains." Suddenly, everyone desires a claim to the fortune, including a wealthy rancher named Sullivan (Geoffrey Lewis) and the scheming Prussian, Prosit (Eddie Izzard). This inevitably leads to plenty of violent double-crosses, none of which are more gruesome than the betrayal of Prosit's partner, Woodhead (Djimon Hounsou in his latest thankless role), who survives a scalping in order to get revenge on the slithery Prussian. Also complicating Blueberry's efforts to keep the peace is his blossoming romance with Sullivan's beautiful daughter Maria (Juliette Lewis), who fancies herself something of a chanteuse, meaning that the audience is subjected to the horrifying spectacle of Ms. Lewis warbling "O, Danny Boy." Kounen's heart clearly is not in the storytelling department, but rather the spiritual journey undertaken by Blueberry. There's a lot of very pat mumbo-jumbo about the duality of man and Blueberry's need to confront the dark side of his nature (gee, that sounds awfully familiar!), but there's no intellectual weight behind it. Worse, the interminable CG hallucinations created by Kounen and his F/X team are a highly unoriginal collision of imagery from The Matrix and 2001, the latter of which Kounen seems most interested in emulating with his journey-to-the-center-of-consciousness finale. There are some good ideas here, even if the metaphysical, peyote-induced showdown recalls too closely the climax of Joseph Ruben's Dreamscape (1984), but the profound spiritual epiphany Kounen means to share with the audience somehow got lost in translation from the shaman's teepee to the screen. There are some residual pleasures provided by the supporting cast; Madsen is, as ever, an enjoyably laconic villain, while Ernest Borgnine is quite poignant as the wheelchair-bound sheriff, Rolling Star. But their efforts hardly offset the tediousness of Kounen's nonsensical narrative. Columbia TriStar presents Renegade in a clean anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras are limited to trailers for other Columbia releases. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks



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