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Assassin Club [Review]

Morgan (Henry Golding) is a slick international assassin looking to get out of the game. His boss, Caldwell (Sam Neill), twists his arm into taking one last job: kill six other highly skilled hitmen like him. The only problem? They’re all trying to kill him, too.

Every once in a while, a film comes along so inept that it can trigger an existential crisis in the viewer. Films, by definition, are astonishingly difficult to make. They rely on the time and talent and money and labour of countless people. So many obstacles have to be overcome to reach the finish line. And sometimes you just have to wonder… how, and why, and to what end? What compelled good people to sign up for what is — as in the case of Assassin Club — an empirically bad thing? Yes, it comes to us from the director of The Transporter Refuelled, but the sheer naked inadequacy of Assassin Club is quite something to behold — its dreariness hits you like a sniper’s bullet to the head.

Henry Golding (who will presumably be hoping that the Bond casting directors avert their eyes from this one) plays assassin Morgan: a former Royal Marine, working for a hitman agency, and looking for a retirement plan. Alas, his One Last Job involves a kind of battle royale with his fellow assassins, instigated by a mysterious client — a fight to the death. Just when he thought he was out — well, you know the rest.

Sam Neill (who screen-tested for 007 in the late ‘80s) plays Morgan’s aloof mentor Caldwell as a mix of both Q and M, adopting a haughtily British, do-pay-attention kind of register. He is by far the film’s Most Valuable Player. Naturally, the film decides to ditch him within the first hour. But nobody comes out of this especially well: Daniela Melchior is Morgan’s thankless girlfriend, who proves alarmingly forgiving at discovering her boyfriend is a professional murderer; Noomi Rapace plays a mysterious police chief with an accent almost as globe-trotting as the film itself.

It is genuinely quite hard to watch something so generic, so shamelessly route one. Its cinematic grammar drips with cliché and carelessness. Squint and you could be looking at a TV sketch parody. The hoary narrative — a web of conspiratorial silliness and familiar tropes about a career criminal trying to live a normal life — is told through toe-curling dialogue, flashy editing, ludicrously bleepy “futuristic” software, and, at one point, a budget take on bullet-time (cementing its aspiration to ‘90s knock-off action). Perhaps a solid 10 per cent of the runtime consists of basic establishing shots; we are repeatedly reminded that we are in Paris, France via stock footage of the Eiffel Tower and the helpful title: “Paris, France”.

If there is any saving grace to the film, it is in the stunt work and action — the most competent department here. There are a couple of half-decent car chases through cobbled European streets, and some punchy hand-to-hand combat. But you can barely tell, the shaky camera and itchy-trigger-finger editing stubbornly refusing to allow for anything close to coherent. There are good, talented, hard-working people involved in this folly, but after watching it, you are left to grapple with the same unanswered questions ringing in your ears: how, and why, and to what end?

Incompetent and mostly just quite boring, Assassin Club doesn’t even have the good grace to be so-bad-it’s-good. Rough, rough stuff.

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