In a surefire sign of current economic woes, the titular hero of transnational thriller “Largo Winch” seems less concerned with fighting for justice than with preserving his own multibillion-dollar inheritance. Adapted by Gallic writer-director Jerome Salle (“Anthony Zimmer”) from the popular Belgian comicbook series, Euro-financed production throws large chunks of change at a corporate espionage saga spanning several continents, yet most of the money seems to have landed in locations, with too little allocated to the script and stunt departments. Pic should yield steady dividends from Francophone fanboys, but its overseas IPO may prove less profitable.
Based primarily on the first two volumes of illustrator Philippe Francq’s and writer Jean Van Hamme’s 16-part series — itself based on Van Hamme’s serial novels from the ’70s — the film depicts the unlikely origins of orphan Largo Winch (Tomer Sisley), sole heir of billionaire mogul Nerio Winch (Miki Manojlovic), whose mysterious Winch Intl. Group is one of the world’s most powerful conglomerates.
Scenario, co-written with scribe Julien Rappeneau (“Paris 36,” “36 Quai des Orfevres”), departs occasionally from the source material, mostly updating various details to reflect contemporary realities. The company’s headquarters, originally in New York, have been transplanted to a highly photogenic Hong Kong, while a Turkish prison a la “Midnight Express” has now become a Brazilian one a la “Elite Squad.” And Winch’s vast fortune has also been boosted, from $10 billion to $20 billion (although in today’s market, such an amount may no longer be worth dying for).
Less action-heavy than other comicbook adaptations, the narrative flashes back and forth between episodes of the young Largo’s (played by Benjamin Siksou) troubled childhood, when he was plucked from a Croatian orphanage by rising business star Nerio, and present-day sequences in which, following Nerio’s murder, Largo battles to protect his fortune from a corrupt board of directors, headed by the nefarious Ann Ferguson (Kristin Scott Thomas, menacing despite an overdone “helmet” haircut).
Indeed, most of the fighting seems to take place in the boardroom: Never has a teen-targeted pic relied so heavily on terms like “minority shareholding,” “hostile takeover” or “Liechtenstein Anstalt” to fuel its momentum. A major scene between Largo and his lover/nemesis Lea (Melanie Thierry) has the latter forcing the billionaire to sign a debt assumption agreement, whose dramatic significance may be lost on audience members without an MBA.
Other setpieces pack a mightier punch, including an island-based pursuit where helmer Salle and d.p. Denis Rouden (“MR 73,” “Anthony Zimmer”) stage the action in impressive widescreen and helicopter panoramas to showcase the eye-catching location (the island of Malta). Brazil and Hong Kong locations are less captivating, and many H.K. street sequences feel rushed and poorly mastered.
Pic does benefit from a certain offbeat, relaxed humor, which German-born Sisley, whose background is in standup and TV sketch comedy, delivers comfortably in both English and French. The financial mumbo-jumbo is handled with less proficiency by the film’s cast of unlikely managers, including a not very scary security chief-turned-traitor (Steven Waddington) and a sinister VP (British-born Asian actor Benedict Wong) who sounds like he’s been dubbed by a plumber from Newark.
Alexandre Desplat’s score smooths out the transitions between locations and time periods, and the flashback-sequence melodies blend well with all the sepia-toned landscapes.
Violence, beyond a few gory closeups, is underwhelming compared to recent Hollywood superhero fare. But a PG-13 rating Stateside would have to stand the test of a lengthy sex sequence in which a closeup of the actress’ buttocks actually becomes a clue to one of the narrative’s many puzzles. Call it the French touch.