Action Heroes – Stallone: Assassins

It’s such a shame that the last movie I review for Filmwerks “Action Movie Retrospectives” series would be one that fails to deliver any real action.  When I got this gig, I assumed it would be hours of fun, hardly work at all; “action” to my mind always equalling mindless entertainment. So to have to watch a movie that is so un-engaging that at one point I actually considered “running the hoover round” is a bit of a bum way to end things.

Just in case the title didn’t give it away, this movie is about Assassins: two to be exact.  The first is Stallone as old timer Robert Rath, a seasoned gentleman-hitman with principles. He’s reached the apex of his game but has seen enough death and wants out of the biz for good.  He takes his jobs via, what was in 1995 was pretty cutting edge fax modem technology.  Of course it all looks pretty twee now as he boots up his apple laptop and has IM style conversations with his faceless employers. 

He’s offered a job, to kill a mob boss at a funeral but before he can get it done he’s beaten to the mark by young upstart, assassin number two: Antonio Banderas.  Banderas’ Bain is comparatively new to the hitman game and in stark contrast to Stallone’s Rath doesn’t have any principles or morals.  He doesn’t care about the collateral damage his volleys of gunfire cause and will happily kill innocent bystanders to save himself.  To be frank he’s a swaggering psychopath, which strikes me as the type of character trait one would need to be a successful hitman. Bain wants to be number one and knows that the only way to do that is to unseat Rath, just as Rath years earlier assassinated his own mentor to claim that title. 

After the graveyard assassination featuring some cunningly concealed weaponry (in an arm cast Stallone? Ingenious), Bain is quickly arrested which gives him a chance to demonstrate his vicious streak by causing a massive high speed collision, killing his police escort and easily escaping.  I must sing the praises of the stunt drivers here, or perhaps I shouldn’t sing their praises because I though “good stunt drivers” rather than simply “Wow”?  Regardless of whether or not I was able to become engrossed enough to forget that the people doing the driving were stunt men, the car chase and crash scenes are quite good.  Sure it’s not The French Connection but for an action movie that’s selling itself on gun play it’s a surprise that the only real action comes through car based stunts.

After the crash, Bain demonstrates his flagrant disregard for human life by unnecessarily breaking the neck of an injured police officer. Although ruthless, Bain isn’t quite as smart as Rath who after realising there’s a new player in town impersonates a cab driver and picks Bain up as he flees the scene.  This gives the two men a chance to talk (albeit through some handily placed bullet proof glass) and it’s here that the seeds of the movie are sown.  Bain is going to kill Rath and usurp is position, especially now he knows that Rath wants out.  It’s only a matter of time before these two go head to head again, and they get a chance when Rath decides to take “one final job” before leaving the biz forever.  It’s at this point that we say hello to both the McGuffin and the lovely Julianne Moore.

For me Julianne Moore is a 27%er (an actor who makes a movie 27 percent better by virtue of being in it, other examples include Greg Kinnear and Nathan Fillion).  Ever since I saw Boogie Nights she’s been a member of that club for me and I’m usually willing to overlook bad movie choices and poor performances, because frankly I love her a little bit.  However, her performance in this movie makes me shudder.  Perhaps it’s less her performance and more the character.  She plays the purveyor of the McGuffin (some computer disks that have something on them….something important….but I honestly have no idea what it is) and as the movie progresses the <shudder> love interest and possible redemption for Stallone’s Rath.  She’s a surveillance expert and thief trying to sell the McGuffin when Rath’s shadowy employer put a hit out on her.  Both Rath and Bain take the job and set out to kill the mark.

What upsets me about Moore’s character is not that she’s a love interest, or that I can’t understand why she goes along with Rath when he decides not to kill her (on the basis one assumes that he likes red heads), but that she won’t stop going on about her fucking cat. She literally doesn’t stop talking to the cat, about the cat, worrying about the health/whereabouts of the cat.  It drove me to distraction.  It’s clearly filmmaking shorthand for “this woman is single (and nuts)”.  How can a character be so one note? By the end of the film, I wanted the cat to die much more than I wanted Bain to die.
After Rath opts to save her life (and that of her fucking cat), his employers put a hit out on both of them and they race down to the Caribbean with Bain in hot pursuit.  Once down there however the pacing grinds to a halt. There is literally no action for hours while Rath and his paramour sit patiently and wait for Bain to make his move, while he sits patiently and waits for them to make their move.  Meanwhile, I was sitting on my sofa waiting for someone to do something to bring the movie to a conclusion before I fell asleep.  In the end there is a confrontation between Rath and Bain, starting off with a war of words and eventually turning into a gun battle inside a ruined and abandoned house. Rath gets the upper hand before the “big” plot twist, that Rath’s one-time mentor is still alive.  Not that it does him much good because Rath and Bain team up to shoot him thirty seconds after he reveals himself. It would have been a much better movie and a much better ending had Moore picked up a gun, revealed herself to be an assassin and killed them both. Sadly that didn’t happen, Moore stood in the background one assumes thinking about her cat.

I feel I should say something positive about the film though.  It’s got quite a good soundtrack.  Well, it’s a soundtrack that unexpectedly features Portishead, which was lovely.  Other than that I can’t really recommend this.  If you want to watch a movie about assassins that is funny, smart and has a lot of action, watch Gross Point Blank.

Suzanne King

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