Even by the admittedly low standards of a basically direct-to-video, shot-in-Bulgaria action thriller starring Christian Slater and Donald Sutherland as a pair of weathered old spies, “Assassin’s Bullet” is a chore. It seems to have been created at some kind of magical nexus where sluggish plotting, technical ineptitude, and iffy performances meet. It’s a smorgasbord of awfulness, but one that you can’t even find yourself enjoying, in a guilty pleasure, can-you-honestly-believe-this? kind of way. It would be lucky to be one of those movies they premiere on Cinemax on Friday nights starring actors who clearly owed the IRS something.
“Assassin’s Bullet,” which has a title that makes it sound like an extremely violent Xbox game, opens with some gauzy flashback sequence that looks like a cat walked across the keyboard while Final Cut X was open – jittery smash cuts, hazy digital effects, a general aura of DIY shamelessness. It involves a little girl on a jungle gym swing and a threatening-looking Arab guy carting around a questionable suitcase (we can tell he’s threatening-looking because he’s wearing a hopelessly outdated summer scarf that screams “I Trained With Jihadists”), before abruptly ending. The only reason we know this sequence is a flashback is because it’s riddled with these half-assed editorial effects.
Anyway, after a painful title sequence (the “starburst” effect is used for the title card, which is kind of the digital equivalent of a “star wipe”), we get into the meat of the story – a mysterious (and sexy) vigilante is killing known terrorists (or terrorist associates) in Bulgaria. The feds are baffled and a political bigwig (Sutherland, looking like he’s being held together with Scotch tape and prayers) assigns a flak (Slater) to investigate the case. Slater is reluctant because he too has a tragic backstory (but not the backstory from the pre-titles sequence, of course–that would be too concise), causing him to leave the FBI and, for some reason, go to Bulgaria to head a program to get English as a Second Language classes set up across the country. America, fuck yeah!
Of course, since this is a bad movie with incredibly clumsy narrative mechanics, Slater agrees to take the case…or whatever…and the mysterious vigilante keeps killing Arab thugs in spectacularly violent ways. Slater doesn’t seem like a particularly gifted investigator though, and the entire middle section of the movie has the watch-it-in-the-background-while-folding-clothes vibe of a typical primetime procedural, with Slater visiting crime scenes and barking orders while the camera makes sound effects as it whips around (yes, it’s one of those movies).
We also, for some reason, spend an inordinate amount of time with Timothy Spall, who played one of Voldemort’s lackeys and appeared in an underrated Hammer movie a couple of years ago called “Wake Wood” (Netflix it!). Spall plays a psychoanalyst who is treating a young woman who is the wife of another political wonk in Bulgaria (who knew?) and through their sessions we are subjected to tons of pseudo-psychological nonsense and some of the most intensely awful dream sequences ever committed to film. Spall is also Slater’s best friend in all of Bulgaria and the two of them frequent a weird, Bollywood-tinged strip club (or something), which means that there are at least two or three belly-dancing numbers that feel like they go on for at least an hour each.
Spall suggests that Slater have an affair with one of the more seductive belly-dancing women, which Slater rejects because, in his words, “It’s not that I don’t want to… It’s that I don’t want to lose someone again.” (Yes, it’s one of those movies.) Because, of course, his wife was shot and killed a few years back, causing him to, like any mourning widow, move to Bulgaria. The dialogue in “Assassin’s Bullet” is kind of like musical numbers, since every character just says what they feel instead of relying on dramaturgical standbys like implied emotions and subtext. It’s the kind of movie where a character, who has been sketching various women, lays out their pictures and says, “Multiple personality syndrome!” Guh.
Director Isaac Florentine throws a couple of clever flourishes in there that distract you, at least momentarily, from the horribleness. When he introduces the Donald Pleasance character, he actually has him walk around a city square with Christian Slater, dressed almost exactly like his character in “JFK” and expounding, with a kind of earnestly Shakespearean pomp, the events surrounding the conspiracy that he’s asking Slater to investigate. There’s another scene, too, where a couple of gunrunners are talking about downloading movies illegally from the Internet (a fate that will almost surely befall “Assassin’s Bullet,” but who would actually want to pay for this piece of shit?) These scenes will make you giggle. Then, immediately following the giggle, you’ll wonder what you’re doing still watching a movie that looks crummier than that YouTube video of the monkey riding the pig.
As the movie limps along, “Assassin’s Bullet” becomes both more predictable and more ludicrous, with WTF-worthy plot twists that you could have predicted a few minutes into the movie piling on top of one another in a bloody car crash of a narrative. There are also a few more belly-dancing sequences. Slater, for his part, seems relatively alert and healthy, which at the very least makes it seem like he wasn’t forced into the movie under duress, and seeing Donald Sutherland’s face makes us think about “Don’t Look Now,” which is probably the nicest thing you can say about “Assassin’s Bullet” (no, there is no emphasis on a single bullet or any bullets really). Seeing Sutherland working, though, you kind of wish he was on a beach somewhere, enjoying his retirement. Anyone watching “Assassin’s Bullet” will be gripped with a similar sensation — to be anywhere but watching this movie. [F]