In 2000, Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel teamed up with La Haine director Mathieu Kassovitz to deliver The Crimson Rivers, a fidgety psycho thriller that pre-dated the kind of twisted adventures later made famous by such cultural phenomenon as Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. While infused with a kind of restless energy that saw a dark, over-complicated plot about eugenics and vengful twins jostle for position alongside buddy cop antics and random bouts of martial arts, the movie turned out to be a rousing whodunit despite not actually making that much sense; so it was hardly a surprise when a sequel surfaced four years later.
However, continuing the thread of preemptively predicting the next example of thriller that would enthrall the world, Angels Of The Apocalypse riffs on the kind of shadowy, villainous, religious cults seen in the pulpy works of Dan Brown. It’s time to once again get rudely dunked into the confusing waters of The Crimson Rivers.
After a monk is presented with a bleeding crucifix during his first night staying at a particular monastery, famous detective Pierre Niemans arrives with a forensic team to find that the blood is coming from the body of some poor sod in a sealed up compartment on the other side of the wall. This grisly discovery kicks off a rash of makeshift murders performed by a group of assassins dressed in monk’s robes who are adept at quick, no muss, no fuss crucifixions and boasts some serious parkour skills to neatly go with having the stamina of five Tom Cruises.
Meanwhile, Detective Reda, while investigating a completely different case, stumbles upon a wounded, long haired man who goes by the name of Jesus and finds himself also drawn into this religious-themed conspiracy when one of those pumped-up monks I mentioned earlier botches a murder attempt. In the aftermath of this, Niemans and Reda meet and decide to pool their resources in order to try and work out exactly what the fuck is actually going on and along with Marie, a specialist in christian mythology, strive to unravel a plot that’s seeing a group of men who dubbed themselves “the Apostles” gruesomely picked off for mysterious reasons.
The actual reasons – from what I managed to discern – involves a cabal of these super-powered monks who are jacked up to the tits on amphetamines and who are being commanded by Nazi, Heinrich von Garten to locate the ancient treasure hidden by King Lothair II which has been hidden somewhere along the Maginot Line… or something. If I’m being honest, the plot’s as tough to follow as a polar bear in a snow storm – while blindfolded – and drunk.
If you were to need a quick, no-nonsense description as to how Crimson Rivers II differs from its enjoyable – if utterly barmy – predecessor, then it can mostly be summed up in four simple but off-putting words: “Written by Luc Besson”. Yup, the man who has insisted on consistently delivering us some of the most disjointed and frustrating action scripts over the last twenty years took time out of his busy schedule trying to live up to Nikita and Leon, to turn in a story that takes in the twisty gloom of the original and inatead gives us a plot seemingly made up of random ideas left over from the last dozen or so pieces of crap he managed to churn out. While the first film – co-scripted along with the director by the author of the orginal source novel Jean-Christophe Grangé – kept a fairly loose grasp on the whys and wherefores of whatever the hell was going on at any given moment, at least it garnished its preposterous story with some knowing action beats and lashings of style to spare. It also gave us a tremendously entertaining pairing of Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel, but here, both Cassel, Grangé and Kassovitz are highly conspicuous by their absence and have left a decidedly bored looking Reno to fend for himself as he doesn’t even try to wrestle with the dence script and instead chooses to indulge himself with some good, old dose of acting narcolepsy he didn’t even showcase while making Godzilla. The obvious disinterest of Reno (Niemans doesn’t even remotely act like he did in the previous movie) colliding with Besson’s adolescent scripting means that director Olivier (La Vie en Rose) Dahan is stuck with providing a clutch of violent, stylish images of needlessly flamboyant murders that his leading man barely even reacts to. To give Dahan a pass, he shoots everything that Besson hurls at him with admirable flair, no matter how stupid or confusing it may be, but he simply can’t make genuinely weird-ass scenes involving invulnerable monks seem anything less than utterly ridiculous, especially when a gang of them, fully robed up and carrying The Omen-style daggers stalk into a local supermarket without anyone batting an eyelid – is this a regular occurrence in France or something?
The absence of Cassel, while keenly felt, is lessened slightly by Benoît Magimel’s carbon copy of detective Reda (he’s even introduced with a similarly lengthy and unnecessary fight scene like Cassel’s detective Kerkerian was), but the chemistry here is as flawed as thinking that you can create back-flipping, religious, super-soldiers simply by slipping them 60-year old nazi synthetic stimulants, but that doesn’t stop Christopher Lee’s generic bad guy, who sadly is only called upon to cough up some bargin basement villainy before an odd, Raiders Of The Lost Ark style climax lazily ties up a couple of lose ends.
However, it all comes back to Luc Besson; and while I’ve been openly bashing his “ooh, wouldn’t it be cool if – ” style of screen writing quite extensively in this review, his utter lack of restraint constantly got on my tits here more than usual. His script genuinely seems to believe that explaining all this gobbledy-gook isn’t actually its job and that an audience won’t care if everything is left completely up in the air as long as there’s a cool, gnarly, dead body shows up every twenty minutes. Nothing makes sense here and even if it did, you feel Besson only would have omitted it on the next draft (assuming he actually does more than one – on the strength of most of his scripting, I’d assume he doesn’t); instead throwing coherence and characterization under the bus just to squeeze in another overlong chase scene or another shot of its leading man desperately needing coffee. The heroes barely even manage to save any of the victims thanks to being at least five steps behind Lee’s inpenetrable plan and by the movie’s end they don’t even bring any of the antagonists to justice, with that final act flood doing all the work for them and making them strangely surplus to requirements in their own movie.
Well shot and undeniably perky, Crimson Rivers II: Angels Of The Apocalypse is nonetheless as hollow and lifeless as a chewed out animal carcass as this French thriller confuses genuine mystery with a blunt refusal to add any exposition to join the random dots.
Regrettably more merde than murder.