Judge Patrick Bromley is so cultured, he prefers the Assassin's Ballet.
Who is killing America's deadliest enemies?
Well, that was disappointing.
The 2012 action thriller Assassin's Bullet has one major thing going for it: it is directed by Isaac Florentine, currently one of the best and most interesting directors working in the action genre. A former MMA fighter himself, Florentine has made some of the better direct-to-DVD action movies of the last few years: Ninja with Scott Adkins, Undisputed II with Scott Adkins and Undisputed III, also with Scott Adkins.
Wait. I think I figured out something else that's disappointing about Assassin's Bullet. No Scott Adkins.
Assassin's Bullet (originally titled Sofia, a better title) stars Christian Slater (Julian Po) as Robert Diggs, an FBI agent still reeling from the shooting death of his wife four years earlier. He is called to Sofia, Bulgaria, by Ambassador Ashdown (Donald Sutherland, The Hunger Games) to track the identity of an assassin who is killing off all the terrorists on the U.S.'s Most Wanted list. There, he meets a belly dancer and is immediately enchanted by her despite the fact that she harbors many secrets. Meanwhile, a meek schoolteacher named Vicky (Elika Portnoy) sorts out her own tragic past with the help of her psychiatrist, Dr. Kahn (Timothy Spall, Vanilla Sky).
There are twists in Assassin's Bullet that make describing the plot in detail difficult. Suffice it to say that it's much more Portnoy's movie than it is Slater's, who is basically playing a clueless, occasionally horny fool—though he does so with great grimness and determination. Portnoy shares a story credit on the movie, and that's easy to believe. It's primarily a vehicle to show her off. Her performance is not great in a lot of areas—acting chief among them—but she gets to demonstrate a bunch of other skills.
This really should have been Florentine's show, and he, too, is working outside his comfort zone. He still has a frustrating tendency to overdo some of the action moments—there's lots of quick zooms and, most annoyingly, speed ramping—but it's hard to deny his skill at knowing where to place the camera in a fight and how to maintain a sense of geography. Where Florentine excels is in his staging of action sequences, which he allows to play out in longer takes and shoots from a distance that allows the audience to see not just what's going on, but who exactly is doing the fighting. When it's Ninja and you've got Scott Adkins doing the fight choreography, it's money in the bank. When it's Assassin's Bullet and you've got Christian Slater, it's just not the same thing.
But the disappointment of Assassin's Bullet can't be laid at Slater's feet. It can't even be laid entirely at Florentine's, either. The movie—which, for the record, isn't all that bad and totally watchable—is the result of a lot of things not necessarily going wrong, but not exactly going as right as they could have. Florentine appears to be trying to branch out and try something a little different, so rather than just directing another wall-to-wall action spectacle, he's giving a more "grown up" dramatic thriller a shot. It's not the right fit, as evidenced by the fact that the movie only ever really comes alive during its few action set pieces. Christian Slater, who has become a kind of default action hero during his years as a dependable DTV star, does fine work as a guy haunted by his past and fine work as a guy trying to solve a mystery. He's less convincing during the fight sequences, but at least Florentine had the good sense to allow the character to (SPOILER) get his ass kicked. There are even a couple dramatic heavy hitters on hand in Donald Sutherland and Timothy Spall. Unfortunately, Sutherland is doing what amounts to a cameo and Spall feels out of place, probably because he's saddled with a lot of the film's sillier scenes. The result is a movie that vacillates between decent action and bad drama. It also looks and feels very cheap. At least it doesn't try to hide its Eastern European locations.
The good news is that Assassin's Bullet makes a pretty good DVD. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is sharp and clean—sometimes too clean, actually. The film appears to be shot digitally, and it has kind of a bright harshness in place of anything remotely filmic. The 5.1 audio track carries some weight during the action sequences, but the music is a little heavy in the mix at times (mostly during the interminable bellydance sequences, of which there are several; Christian Slater's hypnotized reaction during these is unintentionally hilarious) and dialogue is a little low. The lack of any subtitles doesn't, though the movie provides its own during the non-English language sections. The only bonus features included are a making-of featurette and a trailer.
Modern action movies are in such a bad state that we're forced to turn to the Direct-to-DVD genre in the hopes of finding something interesting. Or unique. Or even competent. I had high hopes for Assassin's Bullet, because Isaac Florentine is able to make action movies that are all three. This just wasn't the right material for him.
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