We at the ISCFC have covered the new world of straight-to-video (well, I guess it’s straight-to-Netflix now) action movies several times before – most favourably with “Ninja”, the Scott Adkins-starring gem. That was directed by Isaac Florentine, the king of this particular genre, and “Assassin’s Bullet” is another one of his.
However, rather than getting Adkins kicking all the ass, we get a rather different sort of movie here. Christian Slater, who was once on the cusp of the A-list before he decided to stop trying and just do a seemingly endless Jack Nicholson impression, is the star, and an undisguised Sofia, Bulgaria is the location. It’s also got some splendid “who’s got a week free and wants a trip to Eastern Europe?” casting, with Donald Sutherland playing the US Embassy chief, and Timothy Spall as a psychiatrist friend of Slater’s.
A mysterious assassin is killing people on some US Government Most Wanted list, and Robert (Slater) is asked by Ambassador Ashdown (Sutherland) to investigate. Although he’s there as a cultural attache, teaching English to the locals, he’s a former FBI agent who walked away from it all after the murder of his wife. So he has skills, is what the movie is telling you. Where would cinema like this be without troubled ex-agents and rogue special forces guys and gruff former cops with a heart of gold and a black belt? Anyway, while having a whisky with his buddy Dr Kahn (Spall) in a folk-dancing club, he meets Vicky (Elika Portnoy), one of the dancers, and they begin a rather charming and chaste romance. Do not ask why an English psychiatrist is operating in Sofia, Bulgaria, because you will never be told.
There’s also a seemingly irrelevant subplot with one of the teachers that Robert helps at the beginning, a blonde woman with an overbearing, much older husband; and of course the assassin herself, who it looks like is subject to some sort of brainwashing to get her to kill all these people. Slater is assigned a couple of local cops and tries to break the case, all the while more murders of high-profile targets are occurring.
A brief aside, which I hope you don’t mind. This is produced by Mutressa Films, who appear to be owned by actress Elika Portnoy. So far, her acting career (certainly in larger roles) seems limited to movies she’s produced, and “Mutressa” is Bulgarian slang for the girlfriend of a mob boss. So, make of that what you will when you wonder why this young woman is ponying up the money to produce movies like this for herself to star in.
I can’t shake the impression that no-one other than Portnoy (who is an absolutely terrible actress, but at least tries) gave a damn about this movie. Florentine, normally a dependable director, seems very subdued here, with one moderately okay hand-to-hand fight scene and a couple of shootouts that remind you of nothing more than an average episode of a show like “Nikita”. Slater tries to look excited by Vicky but just comes across as if he’s slightly in pain; Sutherland and Spall, though, are almost openly condescending towards the movie they’ve signed on to do. There are, if you can even call them that, twists in the plot, and they’re telegraphed so utterly that you’re left twiddling your thumbs waiting for Slater to figure it out, such as when – hilariously – he’s given absolutely cast-iron proof that Vicky isn’t who she says she is, but then seems to forget about it in the next scene. Oh, and then there’s a couple of crooked cops who are being set up for something, but…they just vanish from the movie, like someone got bored with their subplot. And what do the flashbacks to Vicky’s past have to do with anything? But, on the plus side, if you like belly-dancing, then this is definitely the movie for you, as there’s bloody tons of it.
It’s not terribly exciting, and it’s full of holes. But, the dumbest is yet to come. I guess, SPOILERS, but it’s only a spoiler if you’re extremely stupid and keep your eyes closed for the first twenty minutes. Portnoy plays all three characters – the teacher, the belly dancer and the assassin, and as she’s a distinctive looking woman, with an unusual nose and eyes, one would think she’d get rumbled immediately. But no, and I think the movie tries to hide it from us too, although it’s pretty hard to tell. Dr Kahn is using her Dissociative Identity Disorder (which came from the murder of her parents when she was a child) to allow her to kill without remorse or feeling, which is interesting if completely impossible (and she was apparently trained as an assassin from youth, although why she’d be an American asset when she’s very obviously Eastern European is never established).
So, the Ambassador and Dr Kahn are Vicky’s handlers, on their secret black ops mission to kill all America’s enemies (which kinda makes them good guys, I suppose, but anyway). Why, if they wanted to get away with it, do they hire Robert at all? He doesn’t want to do it, only seems vaguely aware of the murders, and his presence makes their job a great deal more difficult – he was a great FBI agent. Also, Kahn goes out of his way to introduce Robert to Vicky. Why? I get the impression there were some very hurried last minute rewrites to this (with a script partly credited to Portnoy herself), as the supposed star of the movie, Slater, is left looking like a chump while the “villains” ride off into the sunset to kill again.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…low budget movies are interesting because they can fail in so many more weird and wonderful ways. This manages to be a vanity project with an utterly muddled plot and twists which felt like they’d have been thrown out of the first week of a “scriptwriting for dummies” course.
Rating: thumbs down