Assassin vs assassin, and thank goodness we're not talking about 'Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever.' Written by the Wachowski siblings and directed by Richard Donner, this mid-90's action thriller may be forgettable (hence why it's mostly forgotten), but the hook of two major action stars facing off in a twisted tale of double crosses and espionage, there's reason enough to give this one a visit if you haven't already.
Sly Stallone stars as Robert Rath, a contract killer with a troubled past who wants to leave it all behind, though the lure of the big payday keeps drawing him back. After a $200,000 hit gets stolen from him by another killer, Rath seeks answers through his anonymous handlers, but is told that Miguel Bain (Antonio Banderas) doesn't work for them. After a confrontation that leaves both parties aware of the skill of their opponent, one that doesn't even provide any bloodshed, another job pops up, and this one's a doozy. Kill the carriers of a disc, retrieve the info, get paid two million bucks upon receipt. Rath's all over this job, but when Bain again appears, Rath seeks out the truth, and saves the life of the target (Julianne Moore), a surveillance expert who has apparently stumbled onto some crucial information. The race is on as the assassins seek to end the competition and cash in on the biggest payday of their careers.
There's nothing all that original or unique about 'Assassins,' and that may be why it has faded out of prominence, despite it's A-list cast. This is a fairly generic action-thriller, whose plot is as paint-by-numbers as they come. Still, there are numerous well made sequences and bits of action that can't be ignored or dismissed so easily. The cat and mouse game between Stallone and Banderas makes for a very intense sequence with the taxi ride from hell, and the ways they keep bumping into each other lead to a believable animosity between their characters. The natural urge to be the best of the best in a game where only the best survive really makes for obvious yet thrilling gunfights.
That said, this film is about as dumb as a box of rocks. There are plot holes and silly complications galore, and anyone who has seen any amount of action flicks will notice the simple things that are done wrong, that can pull you out of the film. The amount of time spent with characters talking to a computer (and then having to type it out, since that isn't dramatic enough) is excessive, while the mysterious handler never quite makes sense. You have killers who take orders from an unknown source, and shit doesn't add up. So why take on more jobs from the damn thing? Greed? Neither of the characters seem the greedy type. They're about showing their skill, their proficiency, proving their worth. So character motivation goes straight down the drain. On top of all that, characters regularly pull out guns in very public areas, yet no one ever notices or gets startled by, you know, dudes whipping out their pieces like it's high noon at some corral in the old west.
The major plot- er, failing point, is a disc. A floppy disc. Moore's character has dirt that someone wants, and while we're never quite sure what it is (until a "what the deuce"...ex machina bit at the climax), it's hard to give a rat's ass about it, the way it's flaunted around. At first, you wonder if the buyers of the content are the world's biggest dumbasses, as they download files that add up to just short of a GB worth of data, and you wonder, how in the heck are they going to fit that on a 1.44MB disc? Yeah, the fact that we're talking about the encryption code for the data is never made perfectly clear, as that's the only logical explanation. Additionally, not once in all the shoot 'em up action is the disc ever in danger of being crushed, damaged, or otherwise ruined. It's a delicate thing, yet is treated like the black box of an airplane.
'Assassins' could have been a better film, if it had some more elaborate sequences, and kept up the pace, rather than constantly ramping up and then slowing back down again. Tension needs to be constant, and that's one thing this flick can't sell, up until the finale. With two actors providing solid performances, in roles we believe them in from the very start, this one should be a no brainer. I suppose it's fitting that it is, in fact, a film with no brains.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Assassins' comes to Blu-ray on a Region A/B/C BD25 disc. There's no annoying pre-menu content, while the menu itself is silent and static.
This high def release of 'Assassins' isn't quite killer, but it most certainly is eye catching.
Presented in 1080p with the AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1.78:1, the film regularly shows off plenty of detail and sharpness. When the colors first saturate the film after a black and white opening, we get the sharpest green grass blades imaginable without seeming neon. Whites start out a little busy, but as the film progresses, they calm down and look quite natural, while black levels are appreciably strong, though they never swallow detail from surrounding areas. Depth can be questionable most of the time, but if one focuses on the forefront of the picture, we get an abundance of facial details from all the actors, with no smearing or manipulation dulling out the vivid definition. There are some soft shots mixed in, though they're never quite long, that are hard to miss due to how sharp the rest of the picture is.
For a borderline obscure catalog title, you'll be lucky to see anything as clean and good looking as WB's job on 'Assassins.'
'Assassins' sounds quite good for its age, arriving with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix.
Rear channels get some very interesting use throughout the movie, with light ambiance popping up from time to time, along with a few bits of very interesting localization to keep the film feeling urgent and in motion. When the camera angles change, so does the location of noise, a very appreciated effect. Sadly, sometimes the rears take a nap during scenes they would have been very usefully employed in. Dialogue has some light range limitations, as half the yells in the film are a little hollow and don't spike very well. Bass pops up a few times, with a hefty explosion and some atmospheric rumble here and there. Gunfire in this film is all silenced, so one can't expect awesome gun blasts, though the clicking of weapons in use does sound quite nice!
This solid audio track is an active contributor to this film experience.
The only extra is the Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3 min).
'Assassins' is a dopey film. It's full of machismo and piss and vinegar, but it has some seriously dumb writing that makes it a bit less memorable than other fare from Stallone or Banderas. And to think, this came from the same guys who revolutionized cinema a few years later. This Blu-ray disc is actually fantastic for a catalog title dump, with very sharp, untampered with video, and solid audio for its day and age. Extras, naturally, are borderline non-existant. For its asking price, one can do much, much worse. This one is worth a look, for first comers to the film or those who have seen and forgotten about it years ago.