Saturday, November 12, 2016

CAUGHT ON NETFLIX: True Memoirs of an International Assassin

I used to be a fan of Kevin James, back when he was in King of Queens and had his scene-stealing supporting turn in Hitch. Nowadays, after his 10 000 collaborations with Adam Sandler, I am... less onboard. However the premise for this movie sounded interesting and Sandler was not in sight.



Kevin James stars as Sam Larson. Sam is an accountant who spends his downtime writing the titular spy thriller based off research from his friend, an elderly Israeli who used to work as an analyst for  Mossad. When his opportunistic publisher releases his book as a true story, Sam is dragged into a vast conspiracy involving the President of Venezuela (Kim Coates), the rebel leader trying to topple him (Andy Garcia) and the Russian drug cartel leader (Andrew Howard) who wants to run the country a different way. 

Sam soon finds himself in over his head when all three shady characters hire him to kill each other. With help of Rosa Bolivar (Zulay Henao), a DEA agent who has been abandoned by her agency, Sam is forced to become the action hero he fantasies about being. 

This movie is touching greatness. The concept is cool, the contours of an interesting story are there, and the cast is solid, but there is something undercooked about True Memoirs of an International Assassin.  

James is affable and surprisingly believable as an action star, the rest of the cast are fine. Henao is good in an underwritten role, Garcia is wasted and Ron Rifkin -- so good in everything -- deserves more screen time. The villains are underwhelming. Andrew Howard is not scary or funny enough to really leave an impact. Kim Coates is great as reluctant president and CIA puppet Cueto, but he's barely in it. It's a pity, because he is probably the most interesting character in the piece -- he's clearly a Gringo, complains about the country he runs, and yearns to go back to his shitty life in San Diego. How the hell did he end up here? The movie never bothers to answer that question.

It's the same problem with the other supporting players -- they feel like archetypes, rather than people. This does not have to be a problem if the characters were interesting but they are not eccentric or weird enough to be memorable on that level.

The movie is directed by Jeff Wadlow. While the comedy and violence are better pitched than his last effort, Kick-Ass 2, there is not enough of it. Part of it may be that Wadlow does not have the strongest handle on the material -- the action stuff is generally well-shot, and the smaller comedy beats hit, but they never feel of a piece. Whoever shot second unit on the action scenes knows what they are doing, but Wadlow botches integrating them into the movie as a whole. 

Set pieces feel short-changed in the editing room, but they also suffer from an inconsistent tone. There is a great set piece involving Rosa fighting the Russian while in the middle of a ballroom of dancing couples. This is a funny concept, as both characters pretend to just be another couple for the guards around the room, and then throwing down like MMA fighters every time the crowd masks their movements. But Wadlow cuts around the action -- almost like he's too afraid to let it play out naturally. The scene is kind of amusing, but it feels less than what it could be.


Ultimately, while it's passably entertaining, True Memoirs of an International Assassin feels like a really promising 20-page treatment that got shot before it could be fleshed out into a feature-length movie.

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