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RENEGADE

This 2004 adaptation of the popular western comic BLUEBERRY mixes action movie thrills with psychedelic weirdness.  It’s certainly the only oater I’ve ever seen involving a quest for “gold” in the form of a hallucinogenic drug, and which ends with its hero and villain facing off in a psychic duel to the death!

The Package
     France’s Jan Kounen first made a splash with his ultra-violent, wildly energetic 1997 action fest DOBERMANN.  Although it was never released in the U.S., DOBERMANN was enormously popular in Europe.  Kounen’s follow-up was this expensive adaptation of the Euro-western comic BLUEBERRY by Jean “Moebius” Giraud, with a heavyweight (by European standards) cast that included Vincent Cassel, Michael Madsen, Juliette Lewis, Djimon Hounsou, Ernest Borgnine and Eddie Izzard.  BLUEBERRY was initially intended as an action-heavy companion-piece to DOBERMANN, but during preproduction Kounen reportedly dropped some peyote and was so impacted by the experience he decided to take the material in a different direction. 
     BLUEBERRY was released straight to DVD in the U.S. under the title RENEGADE, and with conventional western movie packaging.  I can only imagine how those who viewed this deeply whacked-out film based on that packaging might have reacted!

The Story
     As a child Mike Blueberry is dropped off in an isolated Western town by his fed-up father.  There the teenaged Blueberry falls in love, but his girlfriend is killed by an evil man named Wally Blount.  Blueberry flees into Indian territory, ending up in a cave where he’s given peyote; this causes him to trip heavily, and ultimately gain an entirely new perspective on life.
     As an adult Blueberry becomes a U.S. Marshall, and as such attempts to broker peace between the whites and Indians.  His attempts are thrown into conflict, though, when Blount turns up looking for “gold.”  In fact he’s searching for the substance that turned on Blueberry, and will stop at nothing to get it.  Blount and his goons head for the same cave where Blueberry got his druggie induction, and there Blount drops peyote.  When Blueberry arrives he finds he’ll have to join Blount’s hallucination in order to take him on.  This leads to an otherworldly mind-war that takes these two back to their initial confrontation.

The Direction
     In many respects this is very much the type of kinetic action movie you’d expect from the director of DOBERMANN: it’s fast, bloody, packed with engagingly demented touches (such as a man’s hat concealing the fact that he was scalped) and filled with innovative camerawork.  It’s also (a la DOBERMANN) rather messy from a storytelling standpoint.  It doesn’t help that, in the manner of many European co-productions, the top-heavy cast speaks in clashing accents, and in some cases entirely different languages.
     What makes the film intriguing is the psychedelic angle.  Note the frequent dissolves, definitely out of place in an action movie.  So is the 2001-esque psychedelic lightshow that climaxes the film in place of the expected shoot-out.  Some commentators claim it was made to be viewed while tripping, and it’s been said the hallucination sequences, involving swarming insect-like forms, are the most accurate representations of a peyote trip ever put on film.  Those wanting a traditional oater should steer clear, but for viewers interested in drug-induced weirdness RENEGADE is a must-see.
 

Vital Statistics

RENEGADE (a.k.a. BLUEBERRY)
A.J.O.Z. Films/La Petite Reine/UGC Images/TF1 Films Production/120 Films/Crystalcreek Ltd./Ultra Films 

Director: Jan Kounen
Producers: Timothy Burrill, Jean-Michel Lacor
Screenplay: Gerard Brach, Matt Alexander, Jan Kounen
(Based on the comic BLUEBERRY by Jean “Moebius” Giraud)
Cinematography: Tetsuo Nagata
Editing: Benedicte Brunet, Joel Jacovella, Jennifer Auge
Cast: Vincent Cassel, Juliette Lewis, Michael Madsen, Temura Morrison, Ernest Borgnine, Djimon Hounsou, Hugh O’Connor, Kestenbetsa, Vahina Giocante, Nichole Hultz, Kateri Walker, Eddie Izzard, Colm Meany, Tcheky Karyo, Jan Kounen
 


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