Director: Camille Delamarre
Notable Cast: Henry Golding, Noomi Rapace, Daniela Melchior, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Sam Neill, Anastasia Doaga, Claudio Del Falco, Gabriele Mira Rossi, Runo Bilotta, Sheena Hao, Lorenzo Buran, G-Max
There is a point around the halfway mark of Assassin Club that I came to a realization. Someone needed to recognize Henry Golding, playing the assassin with a heart Morgan, for the serious effort he is putting into this movie. At this point, he’s speaking with a “faceless” assassin, played by the always go-for-broke Noomi Rapace, over the phone about the puppet master that has set up six assassins to kill one another. No lie, he’s giving the scene 1000% more than it deserves. He is carrying the poor exposition, plot progression, and character bits kicking and screaming through that entire scene.
Golding often oozes charisma in this film, straining under the sheer weight of a script and director that don’t understand the potential of the material outside of “look how cool this should be for the 18 to 25 male demographic,” and I almost started feeling pity for the man. After his meteoric rise with Crazy Rich Asians, his career has seemingly been ignored by the masses (even though I still believe - and will fight - for Snake Eyes) and now he’s relegated to a straight-to-home video actioner like Assassin Club.
Judging from the roster of talented actors in this film, I’m guessing everyone involved thought Assassin Club was going to be a big stylish hit. Not only is there the previously mentioned Golding and Rapace, but Sam Neill is also involved in bringing some serious gravitas to the immense amount of exposition he is asked to spew. Sure, he’s ultimately wasted in delivering dossiers in voice-over to assassins that are dispatched in 45 seconds after introduction, but if you’re going to hire someone to do that work - Sam Neill is a great choice.
Yet, that’s the thing about this film. Despite a relatively interesting action plot revolving around six assassins all paid to kill one another for some conspiratorial reason and some impressive casting, Assassin Club pulls off one of the more impressive feats of being both perplexingly messy and relatively boring.
When one looks at the filmography of director Camille Delamarre, one might understand why. Starting off as an editor in Luc Besson’s action academy, making films like Taken 2, Columbiana, and The Transporter 3 incomprehensible messes of incoherence in their editing, he directed the franchise killing The Transporter Refueled and the atrocious Brick Mansions, one of the few films I’ve ever considered walking out of the theater on for how incomprehensible it was as a film. His track record is anything but stellar.
Assassin Club doesn’t do a whole lot to change it either.
Although the film is attempting to coast off of the sheer screen presence of its cast, Delamarre’s direction is once again brutally scattered in its tone. Each of its action set pieces, of which there are plenty - some of them very fun or potentially slick in concept - once again are edited into a hellish nightmare of visual incongruity. It’s not that Golding or Rapace can’t do the action, we’ve seen them do it in other action films, so it’s a choice that’s being made to either cut corners on its budget or as a stylistic one. Considering his track record, I’m assuming Delamarre has chosen the latter, and it’s a stark reminder of why the clean action choreography in a post-John Wick world is so damn important. The action in Assassin Club should be great, but I couldn’t tell you because it’s a bit hard to watch with the hyper-edits, shaky cam hijinks, and Dutch angles.
With all of that being said, there is a baseline aspect to Assassin Club that is just entertaining enough and interesting enough that does engage its viewer. Certainly, the plot and narrative are a combination of tropes and formulas one has seen before, whether it’s the hitman with a heart aspect of its romantic and emotional throughline or its freelance assassins vs government structuring. Yet, it has that old-school charm to its spy elements and cheesy assassin gimmicks that is entertaining. The fact that the film ends up being one that has 400,000 “twists” and a half dozen endings only adds to the ridiculousness in its own endearing way. None of it is particularly well executed, but for those raised on B-movie actioners, it does carry a bit of delightful punch as it goes.
Assassin Club is another misfire from director Delamarre, thanks to a patchy script, some botched pacing, and indecipherable action sequences. Yet, one must respect its silliness as a B-grade actioner and the significant amount of effort that its cast is putting into the material to make it passable. It’s a low bar to clear to be Delamarre’s best film, but Assassin Club does manage to achieve that and for less discerning action fans it will do - but don’t go into this Club expecting VIP service.