Directed by Jesse Atlas.
Starring Andy Allo, Nomzamo Mbatha, Mustafa Shakir, Dominic Purcell, Bruce Willis, Fernanda Andrade, Barry Jay Minoff, Eugenia Kuzmina, Hannah Quinlivan, Vanessa Vander Pluym, and Christian Rodrigo.
A man dies as part of an experimental military program. A former black-ops soldier takes his place to find who killed him.
The only noteworthy aspect of director Jesse Atlas’ Assassin (which he co-writes alongside Aaron Wolfe) is that it marks the final on-screen performance of the greatly revered Bruce Willis, who has been battling aphasia and struggling to act convincingly. Setting aside the ethics of Bruce Willis continuing to act in low-budget action drek (that primarily goes straight to video) despite that condition and whether or not it is something he wanted to do, the movies are typically terrible, and they would be even if he were the Bruce Willis of Die Hard notoriety.
The unfortunate late stage of Bruce Willis’ career boiled down to showing up, straining to recite dialogue while standing around for brief exchanges, and then eventually getting to save the day with some equally lackadaisical and blandly crafted action sequences. Assassin is somewhat different in that Jesse Atlas is not necessarily concerned with using Bruce Willis in that way but rather as a minor supporting character employing Andy Allo’s Mali to recover game-changing military technology from career criminal Adrian (Dominic Purcell). It also happens to be the same device responsible for the disappearance of her significant other, Sebastian (Mustafa Shakir).
Mali will have to accomplish this task by using that same technology; putting on a wet suit, slipping into an ice bath, and taking over the mind and physical actions of someone else’s body, typically someone with a working relationship with Adrian. Her job is to get close to Adrian, find the missing technology, and then kill him, all while being allowed to figure out more about what happened to her partner in the process.
There is no other way to talk about Assassin other than being blunt; this confoundingly silly movie doesn’t give itself a chance to break any of its sci-fi rules, opting never to explain much about them in the first place. Why and how are this military personnel allowed to take over the bodies of some people and not others? If they can get close to these people to do something to their brains that allow them to take over their consciousness, why can’t they just get close enough to find the device themselves? It also seems like no one else has to slip into an ice bath to take over someone else’s body.
Jesse Atlas is more concerned with the moral conversation surrounding this new way of assassination (Mali was under the impression that her partner was a drone pilot, so there’s another analogy) but fails miserably at exploring that. As Mali starts taking over different bodies and returning to her true self, a bleeding effect occurs when she slowly loses her grip on her body. Even more baffling (although there is a predictable and dumb reason behind it), she develops an unexplainable connection with Adrian while posing as an art dealer (Nomzamo Mbatha), attempting to get close to him romantically. The twist is already outrageous, but the last few bits of the plot are astoundingly ridiculous.
Jesse Atlas has clearly played a lot of Assassins’ Creed (it’s right there in the damn title), smashing together ideas from those games about the moral implications and side effects of taking over someone else’s body, resulting in an illogical and dull flick that doesn’t even thrill when it shifts into action mode. I know Bruce Willis has had it hard lately, but Assassin is more forgettable and dumb than the usual stuff he appears in, although maybe still not quite as incompetently horrible. Nevertheless, RIP to an exceptional acting career mired in tragedy and junk during its final years.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]
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