Review: ‘The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch’

"The Heir Apparent is like Batman Begins and Citizen Kane all rolled up into one, and it’s just as exciting and hopelessly random as that comparison makes it sound."

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Is it possible for a movie to be too much fun? Director Jerome Salle doesn’t think so. His newest release, in America at any rate, is The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch, based on an apparently popular series of Belgian comic books (and before that, an apparently unpopular series of 1970s novels). The film was made three years ago and already has a sequel, The Burma Conspiracy, also made by Salle. Sometimes foreign movies take a while to reach these American shores, but when they’re as crowd-pleasing as Largo Winch it’s hard to imagine why. Storywise, The Heir Apparent is like Batman Begins and Citizen Kane all rolled up into one, and it’s just as exciting and hopelessly random as that comparison makes it sound.

The Heir Apparent stars Tomer Sisley as Largo Winch, who’s just inherited the world’s fifth largest fortune and majority shares in his late father’s corporation, in which he has absolutely no interest. When we first meet Largo he’s getting an “invincibility tattoo” – yes, really – which he abandons before its completion because a nearby woman (Melanie Thierry) is in trouble. A martial arts fight sequence and car chase later, he’s shtupping her silly. The next day she’s gone, and he’s been framed for drug smuggling, winding up in what looks like a particularly unpleasant Brazilian jail. His father’s assistant shows up to bail him out, but Largo was in the middle of a prison break anyway and decides to continue on his own path, resulting in yet another car chase and… And this movie is about big business.

No, really. The crux of the plot is about Largo Winch taking control of his father’s company, defending it from a hostile takeover and bringing his Dad’s killer to justice. Jerome Salle’s crazy, non-stop action sequences are a welcome diversion, but they seem like they’re intended to distract from the fact that, when viewed from a distance, The Heir Apparent has a lot more in common with Michael Clayton or, given Largo’s dedication to youthful rebellion over fiscal responsibility, Citizen Kane. Not that The Heir Apparent has much interest in the more universal themes of those works; oh no, not when there are gunfights and bare asses to be displayed.

I’m fine with this, incidentally, since Jerome Salle (who also directed Anthony Zimmer, the caper upon which the underrated Johnny Depp/Angelina Jolie dud The Tourist was based) has made a film that’s the equivalent of five shots of espresso. It would be impossible to fall asleep during this crazy thrill ride, so I say more power to him. But the movie ricochets between dour boardrooms and Casino Royale action beats so randomly that, beyond sheer entertainment (of which there is much), The Heir Apparent feels like a scattershot production, perhaps too interested in turning Tomer Sisley into a legendary badass for its own good.

Here’s where we get to the Batman Begins part. Largo Winch, like Bruce Wayne before him, is a billionaire who inherited his wealth. Which, in traditional Hollywood terms, wouldn’t make him a particularly sympathetic protagonist. Rather than “humanize” their hero, however, the creators of this series have decided to generate audience involvement by turning him into a carefree action hero. Be honest: we like action heroes. This may be a fascinating conceit, but it doesn’t gel with the rest of the storyline, which in quieter scenes with Kristin Scott Thomas feels more like a subdued legal thriller than anything else. Without Bruce Wayne’s drive for personal justice (Winch seems content to merely catch his father’s killer, as opposed to taking his fight to the streets), Largo Winch lacks any justification for his Jason Statham lifestyle. Fortunately, Sisley is a charismatic young chap with just enough detachment from his father’s empire to make the character likable, but if the movie were directed with even slightly less pizzazz The Heir Apparent would have collapsed like the proverbial flan in a cupboard.

It’s interesting to examine how close The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch came to sucking, but it didn’t so let’s end on a positive note. Jerome Salle has directed as wickedly fun thriller. He did it in spite of the jittery restlessness of his screenplay, and yet it’s hard to imagine a more forgivable sin. The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch offers a wealth of pleasures at the low, low cost of common sense.