MRR's Action Movie Month - "Assassins" Review


MRR's Action Movie Month - "Assassins" Review

-- Rating: R
Length: 132 minutes
Release Date: Oct. 6, 1995
Directed by: Richard Donner
Genre: Action/Crime/Thriller

A movie about the world's greatest living hit man being pursued by the second greatest in a race to catch up with a professional computer hacker may be the purest monument to Hollywood circa 1995 as can be imagined. "Assassins" doesn't disappoint moviegoers, bringing them a "Judge Dredd"-era Sylvester Stallone, a "Desperado"-era Antonio Banderas, and a nothing-in-particular-era Julianne Moore.

Robert Rath (Sylvester Stallone) kills people for a living. This is apparently a problem for him, as he is looking to retire and settle down. Unfortunately, Rath is the best hit man in Portland, which is a little like being the best bullfighter in Japan, and he's attracted the envy of a younger killer named Miguel Bain (Antonio Banderas), who is determined to knock out the old master and take his place at the top of what one assumes as a highly competitive field. Pending retirement, Rath agrees to take one last job, that is, to kill Electra (Julianne Moore), who makes her living as an information thief and hacker. When Bain decides to defeat Rath once and for all by killing his assigned target, Rath has to make a decision about whether to kill Electra or become her protector.

Working as a professional assassin is probably a stressful job. The pay is good, but the hours are pretty long and there are few, if any, benefits. This goes a long way to explaining why most of the hit men in Hollywood seem like they're just sick of the whole mess and are looking to retire seriously, including Chev from "Crank," Jules in "Pulp Fiction," and now Robert Rath in "Assassins." Nothing, it seems, is quite as unpalatable as living out every teenager's fantasy and making ends meet by dressing in black and taking out informants with night-vision scoped rifles. Any movie touching on this theme is going to have a hard time presenting a believable motivation for its protagonist, as its theatrical-release audience will disproportionately be made up of the kind of people who fantasize about working for the mob. "Assassins" makes the effort, but in the end the audience has just sat through over two hours of gloriously choreographed mayhem and is left wondering why anybody who's getting paid to live like that would want to give it up. Why does he need to walk away from being a dark antihero and do something like becoming a telemarketer? This basic lack of motivation bedevils any movie in the genre, and at times "Assassins" stumbles over it.

Sylvester Stallone plays the lead in "Assassins," so right away you know the Academy snubbed it at Oscar time. Julianne Moore, we're assured, is very alluring in her role as a femme fatale, although some slack is called for here because the movie was made in 1995 and nobody really knew what a hacker was supposed to be like, so why not Catwoman in a pantsuit? Moore tried good and hard, but when the film was made, she hadn't been in movies long enough to get productively typecast, so the role is a poor fit. Antonio Banderas is magnificent as usual and oozes a creepy sensuality all over the screen, which leaves the viewer feeling a little ashamed for no real reason-again, as per usual. It's a real treat to watch Banderas work, no matter what the role is. It's as if he can't switch off his Old-World sumptuousness and even when he's playing a determined and ruthless professional killing machine, the role is still being filled by the luxurious Armand from "Interview with a Vampire."

The technical aspects of "Assassins" are certainly done well. The lighting and use of color speak well of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. The script was largely written by Andy and Lana Wachowski, although there's little here to foreshadow their later brush with greatness in "The Matrix." Of course, Richard Donner can always be trusted to wring his cast like a dishrag to get the performances he wants when he's the director. Any of the systemic problems a viewer might notice in "Assassins" could perhaps be laid at the feet of the film's producers. In Hollywood, producers handle the business end of getting a movie from the original idea to the finished product, and a long list of producers can be a sign that a film has run into trouble and passed through many hands. The credit for "Assassins" comes from having more producers than Atlas Shrugged does, with a staggering seventeen in the final cut, including Dino De Laurentis-alas, he only gets third billing.

"Assassins" didn't manage to rewrite film history, but it makes a fine action adventure and is well worth a tub of popcorn when it's raining outside.

Rating: 3 out of 5