Friends, it is my sad duty to verify reports that Isaac Florentine’s ASSASSIN’S BULLET (formerly titled SOFIA on IMDb, and out on DVD today) is no good. I guess it played a couple of theaters at some point, and it has a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I can’t say I really disagree. It’s dull and amateurishly written and even though it has a weird thing going on with being a vanity project for some lady I never heard of, that’s not enough to make it very fun.
I consider Florentine the most accomplished of the DTV directors. By my count he’s done three classics of the form, plus four really solid ones (one of which he disowned), and a couple other watchable ones. I mean, it doesn’t hurt that his last four movies in a row starred or co-starred Scott Adkins (not even including the reshoots he did for EL GRINGO) and that he’s done vehicles for Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. This one stars Christian Slater. But it’s not just his casts that are great for b-action – he’s a martial artist, Power Rangers director and Leone fan who really knows how to stage exciting sequences and shoot them in stylish, energetic ways that emphasize rather than get in the way of the action.
But I guess that doesn’t help that much when it’s one of these shot-in-Bulgaria assassin thrillers that are more about Christian Slater having conversations with slumming Donald Sutherland or Timothy Spall than about kicking ass. To be fair, this is unusual for a shot-in-Bulgaria assassin thriller in that it actually takes place in Bulgaria and that it has some color in it, it’s not all desaturated or blue-tinted. But in other ways it’s completely generic. For example it opens with a childhood flashback full of Avid farts, whooshes and dreamy slo-mo.
Another DTV touch: in his first scene, Slater’s character buys a pastry and scarf from a street vendor… and is only shown from the neck down. I guess Slater had to leave town before they got that shot. Either that or Florentine was trying to build suspense about who this mysterious figure is who’s buying a snack. Then you get the big reveal: oh, it was Christian Slater buying that snack. A real INDIANA JONES type iconic hero entrance.
Slater plays Robert Diggs, but this is a very fictionalized version where instead of producer/rapper/actor/director and founder of the Wu-Tang Clan he is a former FBI agent who works for the U.S. Embassy in Sofia. On the fourth anniversary of his wife being shot by gunmen he gets nostalgic, has a drink and gets out the ol’ scrapbook with the happy photos and the newspaper article headlined “FBI AGENT RESPONDS TO CRIME IN PROGRESS, WIFE SHOT BY GUNMEN.” (By the way, all newspaper headlines are all caps in this movie.)
After work every night RZA (or Robert as they call him) seems to go to this belly dancing club to talk to his psychologist friend (Spall). Spall smokes a hookah, tells him to start dating again and muses about the female form. Robert is afraid to love again but does appreciate the art of bellydancing (“Lovely!” he exclaims after one dance). There are 4 scenes in the movie where they’re sitting in a booth watching bellydancing, and they’re pretty long scenes.
Sutherland plays an ambassador who recruits Robert to investigate how a “vigilante” has been able to assassinate a bunch of terrorism suspects that the U.S. has been trying to track for years with no success. (END SPOILER: in the end I don’t think this makes sense, because he turns out to be behind the assassinations – why was it so important for him to lure this guy out of retirement to investigate?)
The vigilante is a Trinity/Nia Peeples in HALF PAST DEAD/Milla Jovovich type lady in black wig, sunglasses and leather who receives a “PROCEED WITH MISSION – NO WITNESSES” text on her phone before going in with a silenced pistol and gunning down a bunch of dudes in some place. There are brief sparks of Florentinianism in these assassination scenes, as she gets to scuffle a little, slash a guy’s throat with his own knife, etc. There are a couple pretty long takes and a beautiful foggy lanscape where one of the killings takes place.
I like the bit where she’s gonna snipe a guy as he comes out of his cabin, but she hesitates when she sees that he has a prayer rug and is praying to Mecca. She waits until he’s done, shoots him, then she says “No witnesses” and shoots his dog too. So she seems to have a soft side about the prayer and then immediately goes extra hard with the dog. (In my opinion most dogs would not be able to give a good description of a suspect or useful account of the incident.)
There’s a joke where some crooked Bulgarian cops/arms dealers are watching a movie in their car and one of them is sick of the movie and begs the other guy to buy some burned DVDs in his neighborhood or download them for free from the internet. I was hoping the movie they’re watching would be UNDISPUTED III since piracy has been blamed for us not having a part 4 yet, but I couldn’t get a clear enough look to tell what it was.
Those cops aren’t worried about Robert finding out they accidentally sold guns to the killer they’re trying to catch, because “he’s just some ballerina.” And they’re right because he doesn’t really do much and is such a poor detective that he doesn’t figure out that the English teacher he works with, the bellydancer he fucked and the killer he’s been chasing are all the same lady. He even noticed that two of them have the same tattoo and didn’t seem to think much of it. It seems like the movie wants you to only figure this out at the end. Also he fights her and she breaks his leg.
The multiple lady characters are played by one Elika Portnoy, a Boston-based Bulgarian-American actress. This seems to be her baby, because she’s credited with the story (she also wrote and co-starred in previous indie comedies A CLOSE SHAVE, TRICKS OF LOVE and IMMIGRATION TANGO). I don’t know what the story is, how she got this made as a vehicle for herself, but she tries to show off by playing troubled (in her main role as Vicky, patient of Timothy Spall, who keeps lapsing into flashbacks of her parents being killed by a suicide bomber while she was on a swing set and they were smiling and waving to her in slow motion), tough (as the vigilante/bullet-wielding assassin), and mostly she gets to do all these long bellydancing scenes. To her credit her physicality in the assassination scenes is pretty good and her bellydancing is convincing. But when she has to say the shitty dialogue she just seems like the lady who would have a bit part as Seagal’s younger wife, not like the star the whole movie is built around.
Here’s a picture of her with Woody Allen, though.
You can tell from this description that there is some crazy in here, but it’s not like a SHADOWBOXER level or anything. It’s not enough. The behind-the-scenes story might be more interesting. Well, not judging from the surprisingly long featurette (where Florentine is discussed but not interviewed). But there’s gotta be some explanation for all this. It seems like somebody owed this lady a favor or something. I don’t know how Slater got involved, but I picture him meeting Florentine on the set of EL GRINGO and saying “Hey, you’ve shot in Bulgaria before, right? You need a job?”
I don’t know that to be a fact, but this definitely seems like a quickie job-for-hire. It really doesn’t seem like his heart was in this one, but I think this is a fluke. I don’t believe he’s lost it yet. I’m not giving up on the new “Codename Falcon” series he’s trying to start for Michael Jai White.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.