Dir: Olivier Dahan. Fr-UK-It. 2004. 100mins.
No, he's not the real thing, courtesy of Mel Gibson, but France still has its own screen Jesus figure this week, courtesy of Crimson Rivers 2: The Angels Of The Apocalypse. Here, the apostles all get killed off while 'the Christ' himself (or rather a modern-day look-alike who heads a mini-sect of his own) ends up in hospital with a gunshot wound. Silly, derivative and strident as it all is, this follow-up to smash 2000 thriller Crimson Rivers appears to vindicate producer Alain Goldman's assertion that the French can produce money-spinning international movie franchises.
With a 650 print release in France, the film has found almost a million viewers at home in its first week and is likely to follow the same commercial pattern as the first film overseas. A UK co-production arrangement and special guest star Christopher Lee are unlikely to help it breach the English-language market, although chances in non Anglophone territories are likely to be better.
While the success of the original Crimson Rivers was in part fuelled by a best-selling print source, the Euros 22m Angels Of The Apocalypse is an original (sic) story by the man who reinvented the Gallic movie franchise, Luc ('Taxi') Besson. Crimson Rivers rolls on: number 3 has already been announced, with Florent Emilio Siri to direct.
Besson provides the goods without really putting himself out: this is yet another menacingly underlit neo-gothic murder post-Se7en mystery, this time with helpings from Name Of The Rose and Raiders Of The Lost Ark: there is a remote monastery, a gruesome series of murders, a trail of pseudo-mystical clues, a hidden treasure sought by neo-Nazis dressed as killer monks and an apocalyptic and noisy climax.
Olivier Dahan has succeeded Mathieu Kassovitz in the director's chair and on the whole does a more streamlined job, serving up the many chase and action sequences with the requisite adrenaline charge. But in the end even he cannot disguise the gaping incoherence of Besson's by-the-numbers script.
Jean Reno is back as the grizzled, cynical detective, but Benoit Magimel has replaced Vincent Cassel as his sidekick. While one expects Reno in this sort of picture, it's a bit sad to see the immensely gifted Magimel in a part that gives him nothing to sink his teeth into.
Lee brings a touch of sinister class to his all-too-brief rendition of the villain. Camille Netta has the silliest role as a lady detective specialising in 'religious sciences' who has to spout chunks of arcane mystical lore. Lots of sects but no sex.
Prod cos: Studio Legende, EuropaCorp, TF1 Films Production, Epica Limited, Filmauro
Int'l sales: EuropaCorp
Fr dist: EuropaCorp Dist
Prod: Alain Goldman
Scr: Luc Besson
Cine: Alex Lamarque
Ed: Richard Marizy
Prod des: Olivier Raoux
Music: Colin Towns
Main cast: Jean Reno, Benoit Magimel, Christopher Lee, Camille Natta