Director: Camille Delamarre
Cast: Henry Golding, Noomi Rapace, Sheena Hao, Sam Neill, Daniela Melchior, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Anastasia Doaga, Gianluca Bottoni, Giulio Pampiglione
Duration: 110 mins.
By Paul Bramhall
Like any genre, the action film is one that goes through cycles. For almost 10 years we have been in the era of the assassin movie, which started in 2014 John Wick and its (at least then) refreshing approach to efficient, no-nonsense kills. Since then we have killers dying (Kate), killer single mothers (Kill Boksoon), averse to killing murderers (The fable: a hit man who doesn’t kill), retired killers (The killer: a girl who deserves to die), make it look like a murderous accident (The Accident Man) and many many others. In 2023, the latest has arrived in the form of Assassins Clubin which Henry Golding plays an ex-military man turned assassin, the type who believes only in taking out the bad guys.
I can’t help but feel bad for Golding, his starring role in the GI Joe spinoff Snake-eyes was against Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings as Hollywood’s 2021 Asian-friendly-themed action fix, and as expected, that meant it never really stood a chance. While it would be easy to justify its failure by saying that a spin-off of a couple of late ’00s and early ’10s action blockbusters would never trump Disney’s almighty Marvel machine, the truth it’s easier – Snake-eyes it was a bad film and Golding simply failed to convince as an action lead.
Far from being put off, though, here director Camille Delamarre gives it a 2na opportunity to prove his worth as an action star for the 2020s, and if you’re going to choose the path of least resistance, a killer movie is the way to go. Delamare comes from that stable of filmmakers who emerged from Luc Besson’s shadow in the 2000s, which includes filmmakers like Olivier Megaton, who subjected audiences to atrocities like The carrier 3 and the Taken sequel. Delamarre’s time in the director’s chair is only marginally more tolerable, leading in 2014 Brick buildings (the Hollywood remake of District 13) and the disastrous 2015 reboot The refueled transporter.
However with Assassins Club Delamarre has successfully elevated himself to the same level as Megaton when it comes to filmmakers who should stay as far away from cameras, scripts, actors and anything else you can name related to cinema as possible. The Last of Him is one of the most intolerably bad movies I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve seen some bad movies. That rare production where literally nothing works – the performances, the action, the script, the pacing – everything, to the point where there isn’t a single redeeming quality to be found. What’s worse, it goes on for 110 minutes.
Where to start? Looming over everything like a giant black cloud is the script, which is so detached from reality that it appears to have been teleported from the twilight zone. Golding’s killer is one of those rare breeds who likes to talk to himself when he’s after his target: “Where are you bastard?” he pronounces as he chases a building, gun pointed forward. In another he returns to base after a murder and watches the day’s CCTV footage, which reveals a young rebel scratching one of his walls – “Graffiti, okay, you need to practice more mate” he jokes quietly to himself, revealing his coldness interior and level of intelligence. Don’t get me started on the way he has to recite poetry before pulling the trigger, and poorly attempted character quirks like a love of eating cereal straight out of the box and listening to hip-hop on vinyl.
The story itself involves the daughter of a murdered businessman and her plan to get revenge 7 years later when she has become a young adult. Not knowing who the killer was due to her covered face, a rather convoluted storyline of hers essentially has her hitting the 7 most notorious killers in Europe, resulting in them all trying to kill each other. The concept of assassins hunting their own can be entertaining, perhaps the best example being Scott Mann’s The tournament since 2009, however here the opportunities to build tension and develop creative action scenes are not only wasted, but ignored altogether.
One of the funniest elements of Assassins Club it’s that it seems to treat Europe as if it were the size of a small city. Events take place in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, France, Italy, Bosnia, Spain and Portugal, usually indicated by on-screen text and an opening shot of aerial footage highlighting the country in question. At one point Golding drives from Rome to Barcelona, fights one of the assassins, then drives back to Rome again to save his endangered girlfriend like it’s a trip to the local grocery store.
The number of countries in which the story takes place is matched only by the number of accents of lead villain Noomi Rapace (Prometheus, Alien: Covenant) buckles, resulting in what is arguably the standout performance of Assassins Club. From scene to scene she’ll sound French, then Eastern European, then all of a sudden a Texan accent appears out of nowhere, all with no explanation, other than maybe she realized what total rubbish she was showing up in, so he decided to have fun. Other killers hardly deserve a mention. We get Sheena Hao (The Last Heroes) as the ever-present Japanese assassin Yuko, whom Sam Neill describes as a “martial arts master”, and the ‘Italian Van Damme’ Claudio Del Falco (The final showdown) shows up and can’t even land a kick.
In case you’re wondering, yes the Sam Neill I mentioned is the same Sam Neill from the likes of Jurassic Park AND Event horizon. What he’s doing here is a mystery, up there with Peter O’Toole introducing himself Diamond cartelor Charlton Heston’s appearance in The order. Neill plays the broker for the assassins, having raised orphaned them to be trained assassins (obviously), and plays his part as a stiff upper-lipped English gentleman whose whole thing is to sip whisky, play the piano and indulge in an ear bloody terrible jokes. At one point Golding attempts to tell Neill that he wants out of the business of assassinating while they are having dinner together at a Chinese restaurant (obviously), to which Neill replies, “I’m out too… SOY SAUCE!”
Unfortunately the budget didn’t seem to run out to find a location for Neill’s lavish accommodation, so an important dialogue scene is completely undermined by the fact that the entire background is embarrassingly green-screened, including the roaring fire they’re supposed to be sitting in front of. Frankly though, shoddy green screen work is the least of Assassin Club’s problems, with so many amateur mistakes or just plain bizarre choices (I swear every computer that pops up has an accompanying “blip blip blip blip” sound effect every time a character types, which drove me crazy) that halfway through I quit to keep track of them. My favorite was a scene where Golding’s girlfriend was tied to a chair and then placed in a toilet. I mean, why not tie her up and throw her in the bathtub instead? Same result, much less effort.
It’s hard to describe Assassins Club as anything but a complete dud, with lackluster and frankly outdated action (if you thought watching bullets in slow motion was a 2000s thing, you’re wrong), awkward performances, and a plot that aims to break the record for how many holes a single script can have. How directors like Delamarre continue to find work is one of life’s great mysteries, as he has already proven himself to be an incompetent action director, but the producers seem happy to inexplicably continue to add fuel to the fire. You need to answer the question if Assassins Club does it make Golding the believable action star he’s obviously striving for? I do not think so.
Paul Bramhall’s assessment: 2/10