King Of Killers opens in theaters, on Digital, and On Demand on September 1.
The casting of stunt performers and action actors in key leading roles for action movies continues to be a positively proven endeavor, especially when accomplished by the right directors and creatives behind the scenes. Do with actor Alain Moussi’s recent stint in rebooting Kickboxer for two installments what you will – those of you who read this site know full well my thoughts on those films, in addition to 2021’s Jiu Jitsu, a three-for-three disappointment count which all but took me out when it came to anything from the helmer sitting in the chair for those films. That’s not to say I’m not critical of Moussi’s performance either, nor am I completely dismissive of his efforts, as with the consistent potential he’s always exhibited.
With the emergence of character actor and comic creator Kevin Grevioux shepherding his debut foray in the directing arena this time, Moussi’s starring addition to the new assassin thriller, King Of Killers, feels like a long-awaited second chance for one of the action genre’s current rising stars of today. Whereas Moussi’s leading debut and subsequent works with Dimitri Logothetis paired him mostly with a bevy of beefy name-talents and celebrity athletes topped off with the requisite inclusion of Jean-Claude Van Damme for posterity, we get a story with a much more diminutive roster that doesn’t threaten to take all the steam out of the film or watching Moussi’s performance in it.
Undoubtedly of course, fans who got a little something out of Moussi’s prior screen credits in the last several years will get some enjoyment out of seeing Kickboxer reboot co-star and pro-MMA fighter Georges St. Pierre reunite with his fellow colleague. The rest of the cast also rejoins Moussi with fellow Jiu Jitsu cohorts Ryan Tarran, and actress Marie Avgeropoulos and her fellow co-star from the CW series “The 100,” actor Shannon Kook. Also partaking in the action is Underworld co-creator and franchise co-star Grevioux – the mind behind the Darkstorm Comics publication on which his freshman action feature is based – capitalizing off his latest opportunity to strike while the iron is hot and bring his graphic novel to life.
Last and far from least is the addition of Stephen Dorff, a name proudly remembered this season as one of the most memorable villains of comic book movie history by way of Stephen Norrington’s Blade, on the cusp of Grevioux’s filmmaking coming-out party. Here, Dorff helps make the case for Moussi’s newest starring role in supporting capacity as Xane, employer to Garan (Moussi) who is one of the world’s top assassins, albeit intent on balancing his clandestine line of work with his other job as the husband to loving wife Karla (Amy Groening) and father to Kimberly (Zoe Worn). Ultimately, it’s Garan’s line of work that keeps him too busy to spend some much-needed time with his family, which speaks to the necessity and urgency Xane so conveniently points out while assigning Garan a new job that simply couldn’t be put off.
What ensues is what you could so expect from a movie whose lead character is driven by vengeance, as the story carries over from the fateful evening tragedy strikes to the year forward in which the film jumps, and our anti-heroic killer-for-hire is still coming to grips with the death of his wife. Uneventfully approached by the affable Korza (Gianni Capaldi) and offered a chance to fly to Tokyo at the behest of a new client named Drakos (Frank Grillo) for a $10 million payout, it’s not until Garan finds himself under new duress when Kimberly’s deteriorating heart leaves her bedridden, that the bereft Garan decides to take the job. Once there and past all the incumbent formalities, Garan and the room full of the world’s most elite killers with whom he congregates before a jumbo screen are all informed of the true nature of their gathering in the far east. The twist? A game where each participant is obligated with the chance to go toe-to-toe with Drakos and dethrone the self-proclaimed “King Of Killers.”
With Grevioux’s inaugural feature work, there is something of a slightly more polished (and I don’t use that term loosely), and viable action vehicle led here by Moussi. His acting is still a bit stagnant, but he emotes a just little more this time around, and that he’s not being overshadowed by the calling of legacy fan-service and permeating starpower from the adjacent cast definitely allows for some imperative breathing room for the actor to let his star shine. I was also impressed by the slight-of-hand that occurs throughout the film’s plot development which came off to me initially as a goof on the part of the director. He knew what he was doing, so this aspect of his storytelling was a welcome eye-opener for me.
I like that Grevioux’s script attemps to build a connection between Garan and only a few of his assassin mutuals, including Avgeropoulos’s Asha. I didn’t see their chemistry at all in Jiu-Jitsu, but I can appreciate their comfortability with each other on screen long enough that Jiu-Jitsu was an in-roads for both stars to work together again. This aspect of the film bodes pretty usefully as we meet the rest of the characters – all more or less a hodgepodge of the kind of amalgam of assassins you might be familiar with others in titles within this particular subgenre.
Kook’s role is something right out of Nimrod Antal’s Predators a la Byron Mann’s yakuza character, but it doesn’t make him any less interesting on screen despite the fact that he’s silent for most of the film. The same goes for bearded hulking ex-government assassin Chord, played by Grevioux for his limited duration of the film. More notably was the choice to get actor and stuntman Tarran involved, which speaks radiantly to my initial point somewhat about directors with respect to casting stunt players for acting roles in films.
The rest of the film focuses squarely on the core of the movie: the game which takes place inside Drakos’ closed-off facility where every floor is designed and tricked out to where our presumed antagonist has the upperhand. That means plenty of mobility against the rest of the characters, and the occasional crippling trap or two, on top of Drakos’s own lethal fighting prowess: He’s fast, deadly, and reloads and re-arms himself faster than you can think, so catching him slipping is no easy feat. The same obviously goes for some of the rigorous stuntwork he performs between action scenes which Grevioux tries and fairly succeeds at making Grillo look as convincing at, apart from the obvious spots of low-lighting, tactical camera angles and editing to hide Grillo’s double, Greg Fitzpatrick, except for in one shot in the second half of the movie where Drakos is holding a sword. It’s a stumble that’s hard to forget if you have an eye for this sort of thing.
What finally gets the film fueled and going is the imminent challenge Garan makes to Drakos in an effort to turn the tables before the bodies pile up too soon. Teamwork is the goal by then, but you can expect that even then Drakos has a plan for that too. That means getting to serve up his worst and bloodiest ass whoopings to his heart’s content. Explosions, bulletholes, stab wounds, severed limbs and decapitations are served generously between the hunter and hunted, all in good, gratuitous fun for anyone craving good old-fashioned R-rated action. I didn’t care all that much for the blue smoky filter during the first part of the final battle between Garan and Drakos, particularly given how distracting it felt at times. The last part of their sequences gets a bit more practical and all the more cool to watch, capped off by an even bigger, albeit absurd twist to help recapitulate things for the film’s potential sequel or series continuation, as well as the return of at least one character who already meets his supposed demise early on.
As most folks paying attention already know, Moussi is far from done with his previous director as a third and final installment of the Kickboxer reboot trilogy is reportedly in active development. I’m not all that excited for it, although the good news is that the onus isn’t all on Moussi to deliver. It takes a team with a suitable leader to create something worthwhile, and for what it’s worth, Grevioux has done exactly that. Barring the routine flaws and mild blunders of low-budget filmmaking, King Of Killers isn’t a total throwaway actioner like a lot of action films that get chucked around at film markets annually, and I’ve been waiting to see Moussi in a movie that wouldn’t inoculate me long before the credits roll.
That Grevioux was the one to put in the credible effort to accomplish this is about all I can offer to readers in terms of a curve at this point, and not for nothing either. I like Moussi, and I wanna see him continue onward to bigger and better things, and with any luck, Grevioux and other directors like him will be right there to help make it happen. Why? Simply put, if you can manage to craft an exciting, action-packed story that galvanizes a well-balanced cast with a protagonist you can root for, instead of getting high off your own supply by trying to overachieve with unabashed self-serving direction, it’s more likely that the results can be favorable for everyone.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.