J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Assassin’s Bullet: La Femme Sofia


Someone is killing Europe’s top Islamist terrorists.  This is a problem for American intelligence bureaucrats, because it makes them look bad.  The vigilante has taken out priority targets they could not even find and therefore must be stopped, post-haste.  That assignment falls to a former FBI agent assigned to America’s Bulgarian embassy in Isaac Florentine’s Assassin’s Bullet (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Still wracked with guilt over his wife’s death, Robert Diggs is taking a timeout from life in Bulgaria.  Happy overseeing on in-country educational initiatives, Diggs is reluctant to get back into investigative work.  However, Ambassador Ashdown is a political appointee very aware he is in over his head and in need of Diggs’ services.  Reluctantly, Diggs starts tracking the vigilante, who is obviously also the English teacher at the Embassy-sponsored high school, as well as the belly dancer who has been come-hither dancing for Diggs at his favorite night club.

The good news about Bullet is that it has no tears for the vigilante’s prey.  Her motivation is clear: terrorists murdered her family.  Had they lived, her targets would have only spread more death and misery.  It even unambiguously associates the keffiyeh scarf with terrorism, which makes it a pretty dumb choice of accessory for Diggs during the climatic third act.  The bad news is a spoiler that will not be much of a surprise: there is some shadowy villainy going on at the highest levels of the American diplomatic-intelligence services.

So Bullet isn’t really a great movie, but it is sort of a shame you can hardly see serviceable B-movies like this in the theaters very much anymore.  Back in the day, this totally would have been worth a trip to the drive-in or the bargain cinema.  In fact, on a technical level, Bullet is a surprisingly polished production.  Florentine stage-manages a couple of nifty little fight scenes.  Of course, that is his specialty, having previously helmed the Scott Adkins Undisputed series and the Power Rangers, for both the big and small screens (don’t scoff at that gig, they don’t entrust important franchises like that to hacks).  Shot on location, Florentine made the most of the exotic Sofia sites and cinematographer Ross W. Clarkson gives it all a moody, mysterious sheen.

The real mixed bag here is the cast.  Christian Slater is more or less okay as the earnest Diggs and co-scenarist Elika Portnoy is sort of, kind of okay as the mystery woman.  At least, Donald Sutherland does not disappoint doing his stately roguish thing as the Ambassador.  Yet, the high point might be Timothy Spall, clearly enjoying the ambiguity of the friendly but inscrutable Dr. Kahn, a part that would have had Donald Pleasance’s name all over it in years past.

As it happens, Bullet’s DVD release is already scheduled to follow hard on the heels of its New York opening.  Make of that what you will.  Frankly, it ought to find an audience through more affordable means of distribution.  It is not classic, but some considerable filmmaking talent went into it (most definitely including the contributions of Florentine, Clarkson, and Spall).  Eventually recommended for B-movie lovers at B-movies prices, Assassin’s Bullet opens this Friday (8/3) in New York at the Cinema Village.

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