Billionaire businessman Nerio Winch (Miki Manojlovic) is discovered dead aboard his yacht sending board members into a blind panic over who will now run his vast financial empire. It turns out Nerio had a secret heir: his adopted son, Largo (Tomas Sisley). Adopted from a Bosnian orphanage thirty years ago, Largo was schooled in business tactics but rebelled against Nerio's plans to travel the world studying martial arts. Now he reluctantly inherits his father's billions, only to find himself thrown in a Brazilian jail on phoney drugs charges. Largo realises the same people behind Nerio's murder now want him dead. He escapes prison and sets out on a globe-trotting adventure to stop his father's killers from seizing control of his empire.
Co-created by Philippe Francq and Jean Van Hamme, the well-regarded Belgian comic book serial Largo Winch previously spawned a Franco-Canadian-German-American television series that ran two seasons and featured David Carradine and Elisha Cuthbert among the supporting players. This lavish big-budget French feature adaptation was writer-director Jerome Salle's follow-up to his well-received thriller, Anthony Zimmer (2005) arriving three years before his widely panned screenwriting gig on the disastrous Johnny Depp-Angelina Jolie vehicle The Tourist (2011). Loosely adapted from the first two issues of Francq and Van Hamme's comic, Largo Winch - Deadly Revenge offers glamorous globe-trotting action very much in the vein of James Bond only with corporate intrigue in place of espionage. Which is one reason why despite Salle handling the frenetic fight action and spectacular stunt sequences with no small amount of style, the plot is not all that engaging.
If Harold Robbins wrote an action movie it might have looked something like this. Indeed aspects of the film do vaguely resemble Robbins' infamous all-star trash epic The Adventurers (1970) with its mix of soap opera and sadism, although Largo Winch is more coherent and a lot less camp. You could call Largo Winch a grown up Richie Rich with more sex and action. Less swarthy than the traditional action movie lead, though no less formidable, Tomer Sisley acquits himself well enough in the title role. Yet despite an early scene where Largo rescues one female character from a seeming rape attempt, establishing him as a stand-up guy, the brooding, sullen hero is none too compelling. Although Salle lifts a lot of his story structure from Christopher Nolan in Batman Begins (2005), jumping in time from present day peril to childhood origin story, Largo is no Bruce Wayne style do-gooder. These days it is a big ask of audiences to sympathise with a billionaire playboy whose only goal seems to be to hold onto his money or at least find out what to do with it.
Given the film came out in 2008, the year in which bankers and business tycoons were less than popular, it is remarkable how far the film goes out to glamorize their actions. Between punch-ups and shoot-outs there is a lot of less than scintillating corporate talk about shares, mergers, takeovers and stock options involving shifty British guest stars Kristin Scott Thomas, Benedict Wong and Steven Waddington. Aside from giving Thomas far too little to do the film also scandalously wastes the supremely talented Mélanie Thierry albeit in a role more intriguing and ambiguous than the same year's Babylon A.D. Happily, Thierry went on to show what she was capable of in Bertrand Tavernier's ambitious historical romance The Princess of Montpensier (2011). Hong Kong film fans will recognise Eddie Ko, star of among others the John Woo war movie Heroes Shed No Tears (1985), in a cameo as a tattoo artist while late in the day the film brings on Bojana Panic as an ostensible love interest slotted so half-heartedly into the plot she would be entirely unmemorable were it not for her beauty. The action is fast-moving, the scenery spectacular but the stakes are purely personal. Largo Winch gives us no sense of how this corporate wheeler-dealing will effect the wider world, beyond the obvious fact these characters have power and money. Nevertheless the film was evidently successful given Salle and Sisley returned with The Burma Conspiracy (2011) a.k.a. Largo Winch II.