The secret service has never been this lethal.
In the great pyramid of action stars, there are certain names at the top of the structure: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis, just to name a few. Then as you begin to slide down to the bottom, you encounter other names: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Mel Gibson, Charles Bronson, and others. The design of the pyramid is in constant flux as new names begin to grapple their way for position in the tower: Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-Fat, among others. However you want to admire the great sculpture of action heroes, certain names seem to always have a fixed place. For Charles Bronson, he's never been one to make it to the top. I submit that, even during the height of his Death Wish days, he's always been a bottom-rung action hero. Poor Charles, he's never been able to make a movie that catapulted him to the top of the pyramid. He's your ever hopeful, ever wanting, average Joe.
The world needs ditch diggers too.
Facts of the Case
Jay Killian (Charles Bronson, Death Wish, Murphy's Law, The Dirty Dozen) is a senior member of the Secret Service. It's the day before the Inauguration of the new President, and Killian has just returned from a six-month sick leave. He's given a new assignment: to protect the First Lady. Being highly qualified and a seasoned veteran of the service, he's rightfully dismayed that he isn't on the Presidential detail. To make matters worse, First Lady Lara Royce Craig (Jill Ireland, eternal co-star of Mr. Bronson) is a royal pain in the butt. She's arrogant, condescending, demanding, and she really detests the presence of one Agent Killian.
During the Inaugural parade, an unusual event occurs that makes Killian think someone wants to assassinate the First Lady. It's possible it was an accident, but his finely honed instincts tell him otherwise. With the First Lady doing what she wants and ignoring all of Killian's suggestions, it becomes apparent that someone indeed wants Lara dead. A wild cross-country adventure ensues as Killian attempts to protect Lara and flush out the assassin and his contractor. With her grating personality, who will get to Lara first: Killian or the assassin?
Action movies are a dime a dozen, and many of them aren't even worth that much. I've never been overly impressed with Bronson's body of work, but there seems to be a niche for him to fill. I certainly believe that there are better action heroes out there, so when I popped in this film I had very low expectations for the flick. Fortunately, I found the movie beat those low expectations and gave me a reasonably good action romp for an hour and a half. Assassination actually is a mildly enjoyable film that has a decent idea, a reasonable plot, and a few good action sequences—with some quality explosions.
As much as I enjoy a good action yarn, something seems to be bothering me as of late. Recently, I've had a debate with some colleagues about the suspension of belief when you see a movie. Normally, that hasn't been a problem; but with a recent viewing of Daredevil, I've been ridiculed for not "letting go." I'm holding onto reality and not giving into the sense of fantasy. Yes, it's a movie that plays by its own set of rules; yet, sometimes some things just take you out of that pseudo-environment and make you think, "Boy, that was wrong." As I was watching Assassination, I was once again taken out of the fun by some very bad instances of fact. On the whole, if Bronson was truly a Secret Service agent and all agents were as inept as him, then every President would have undoubtedly been murdered along the way. He makes so many careless mistakes and allows so many things to take place to endanger his charge, that it really did distract me from enjoying a simple, mindless action film.
But, let's get off that subject and get back to enjoying the film. For, as I said, this movie is enjoyable enough but certainly not one of the great action films of all time. It may certainly be one of Bronson's best, but is that really saying a lot? As directed by Peter Hunt (On Her Majesty's Secret Service), he brings forth some solid direction, cinematography, pacing, and action sequence design. Though he hasn't directed much, his years as an editor for the James Bond franchise look to have helped him here. The movie moves along at a comfortably brisk pace, and keeps you involved well enough in the story. Bronson, who really should get rid of that scrawny mustache, is adequate in the leading role. He doesn't have a commanding lead actor presence, but he's surprisingly far more capable than most of his coworkers. On the very bad side is Agent Chong, Bronson's love interest and coworker. She is a terrible actress who has no charisma or believability, though she has a fantastic set of legs. Her bad chops are offset by a momentarily enjoyable Jill Ireland, who practically chews the scenery in her first few minutes as the bitchy First Lady. Alas, as she softens during the movie, she loses her charm and her character is far less appealing.
MGM has given Assassination a decent move over to disc. While lacking any bonus features, except for the theatrical trailer, the transfers are pretty solid. By flipping the disc, you can watch the movie in either wide or full screen. Wisely choosing the anamorphic widescreen, I found the video adequate but a bit on the grainy side. In addition, I felt the print was overall a bit bright and somewhat washed out. For the audio, you have only a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track at your disposal. The track isn't perfect, as it feels a bit thin and hollow with a touch too much emphasis on the higher registers. Fortunately, the dialogue is clean from the centers and the bass does make an appearance for the numerous explosions. So, while the transfers are sufficient, I am disappointed that a film that's only fifteen years old wouldn't have better source material.
And now for the random thoughts segment of the review:
• There are some nice locations used in the film. This is
probably one of the last times that a film crew was able to use the White House
as an actual location.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Given a new lease on life when he made Death Wish, Bronson is the old man that keeps on giving. His average Joe charisma and simple personality is a refreshing change of pace from all the pumped up, kung fu kicking, wire fu prancing action heroes of today. Bronson gives us a man who handles the situation by outthinking his attackers and by using a gun when needed. He's a real man doing real work and getting the job done realistically.
You're gonna miss the hell out of Nancy Reagan.
Though I found the movie enjoyable enough, I don't have any desire to see it again. It was passable fun, but it has no long-term appeal for me. Hence, I don't recommend the movie for either purchase or rental unless you are a Bronson fan. Even at the value price of $14.99, there's not enough to keep you coming back for more.
For their unselfish display of duty and honor in protecting our Nation and our President, all parties are free to go.
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Scales of Justice
• Theatrical Trailer
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