ASSASSIN CLUB Review: Camille Delamarre’s Hit-Or-Miss Killer Thriller, Well… Misses
Assassin Club arrives on Digital from May 16, and is available on DVD and Blu-Ray beginning June 6.
It wasn’t that long ago when actor Henry Golding’s coming out party in the action cinema arena took the reins for Paramount Pictures as the name and face of the studio’s most recent stake in the G.I. Joe franchise for an origin story centered around the character, Snake Eyes. The movie had all the trimmings and maybe even the potential to be an outstanding film, or possibly more memorable than it has been for some who remain fond of its spirited efforts in some aspects, and instead, you’ll hardly hear a lingering whisper from action fans about the film – not exactly a flex if you’re Golding and you’re next stake in the genre is another film that proves to be just as mid.
That’s where director Camille Delamarre comes in, having previously edited several hit action films including Taken 2, Colombiana, and Transporter 3, whilst accruing some major directorial credits along the way, and to no real avail. A decade since garnering multiple award wins and nominations for his 2013 short, Last Call, it didn’t take long for Delamarre to land on the wrong end of anyone’s fandom as the ill-gotten helmer of Brick Mansions – a subpar remake of Pierre Morel’s exceptional and exquisitely-directed District B13, before taking the mantle of another failed effort to reboot the even larger Transporter franchise. I have some choice words about the former, while I’ll gladly say that 2015’s imperfect, The Transporter Refueled actually affords itself some rewatchability and enjoyment viewers for its runtime. That’s as much as I can say up to that point about Delamarre who went on to direct other projects before returning to something more mainstream, and with none other than Golding leapfrogging off whatever action star notoriety he’s gained from the aforementioned live-action Hasbro property to the more innocuously-titled albeit niche-driven thriller, Assassin Club.
Thomas Dunn’s script sets the stage in Eastern Europe, seven years after a young woman witnesses her father’s assassination at the hands of a masked assailant. Seven years later we are introduced to Golding’s character, Morgan, ex-special forces and currently working under the employment of a well-to-do handler named Caldwell (Sam Neill) as a contract killer, with most of his targets presumably some of the worst of the worst operating in the criminal underworld around the globe. The other half of his double life belongs to the loving Sophie (Daniela Melchior) who is under the impression that Morgan’s accruing haphazard bumps and bruises are from his work as a photojournalist, and it’s not too long before what she doesn’t know about Morgan’s occupation finally surfaces in a late evening ambush, resulting in unfinished business that sees Morgan unwittingly entered in a deadly game pitting him against five of some of the world’s deadliest assassins, with a contract of up to six million dollars on the table.
What unfolds in Assassin Club is a cat-and-mouse game that ultimately finds Morgan trading nuggets with the enigmatic Falk (Noomi Rapace), as he works to protect Sophie by uncovering the truth – from Caldwell’s involvement and knowledge about Morgan’s last two near-awry assignments, to just who is pulling the strings. His findings will soon bring him toe-to-toe with international agents working to investigate the assassins, in a ploy which, for some reason, reveals the film’s most important twist way earlier than preferred. It may not be obvious to some viewers, but it’s easy to catch on when it happens, and eventually, you see that it’s intentional. And, while this probably has a different effect on some moviegoers, it took some of the steam out for me going forward, leaving it to the rest of the film’s respite momentum to help carry things forward.
Delamarre has a discernible strength in his storytelling, and it shows in the performances he elicits from his actors, including Golding, who is also an executive producer on the film. There are also some plusses when it comes to the action, but the style and tone can be a bit arcane at times, and while Delamarre does show he’s learned a bit from his past editing stumbles, the ones he makes here don’t necessarily bode well for some of the cinematography. It’s a very slippery slope as some consumers have their ideas about how good action is supposed to look, and it’ll surely drive some more conversations and shouting matches on Twitter.
For the most part, Assassin Club makes good on the globe-trotting action spectacle it promises and holds up well in its packaging with the kind of name talent that guarantees the appeal its filmmakers aspire toward. Unfortunately, if you’ve set the bar high after Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, your expectations may not be met. Golding has rightly earned his celebrity since charming audiences in Crazy Rich Asians, following up with some pretty good roles in the process, and he has the screen caliber and talent to be a major action star in the right role with the right director. With any luck, Golding will be able to get back in the lab with Kenji Tanigaki for something better than a workaday actioner like Assassin Club. The film’s got flair here and there, but it doesn’t hold a candle to other action genre successes of late. In sum, the film simply doesn’t hold a candle to its competition and contenders alike. It might have had a chance if films like John Wick: Chapter 4, Fist Of The Condor or Pathaan didn’t just spend the last four months winning crowds over and conquering the box office…but, I digress.
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.
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