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Assassination
Tonight's Feature Presentation

ASSASSINATION (1987)

Starring: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Jan Gan Boyd, Stephen Elliott, Randy Brooks, Michael Ansara

Written By: Richard Sale Directed By: Peter R. Hunt

The Short Version

A movie called Assassination is rated PG-13… can you say “red alert,” boys and girls?

Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland team up onscreen for the sixteenth and last time.

The script seems to have been designed to make as many people look like idiots as possible.

Assassination is just too bland to play as anything but background noise.

You watch Assassination on purpose because you’re a Charles Bronson fan; otherwise, move along.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

STALE CHEESE POPCORN.

It’s supposed to be a tasty snack, but if it had any flavor, it’s sure gone now, and not very satisfying to munch on.


Pairs Well With...

MICHELOB ULTRA.

It’s supposed to be beer.  You want it to be beer.  But it’s just so watered down and lightweight that all it does is make you want to pee.

“Well, screw you!”

“Oh, that won’t be necessary, ma’am.”


By the time the late 1980s rolled around, the corner was beginning to turn for Charles Bronson.  He still had good stuff left in him, but there was less and less good stuff out there for him. 

Assassination is not part of that rarer and rarer collection of good stuff.

This isn’t to say that it’s a bad movie, per se.  It just isn’t a good one.  It’s just kind of there, and sometimes, that’s worse than being bad.  Unless you’re sick on the couch, in which case, background noise is really all you’re after anyway.

As our story begins, a new President is being inaugurated to succeed Ronald Reagan.  No, it’s not George Bush; in this fictionalized future history, it’s Calvin Craig (Charles Howerton, GI Joe: The Rise of COBRA).  Not that we’ll be seeing much of Mr. Craig; instead, we’ll be following his wife, Lara Royce Craig (Jill Ireland, The Mechanic).  And so, it turns out, will Secret Service Agent Jay “Killy” Killion (Charles Bronson, Mr. Majestyk).

Just back on watch after being on leave to finish up a messy divorce (Killy’s ex-wife apparently “patriotically [tried] to service the entire United States Senate”), Killy has been assigned to lead the team protecting the new First Lady.  She is, they say, quite a handful.  Or, put another way, “You’ll miss Nancy Reagan.”

Mrs. Craig wastes no time making life difficult, starting off by insisting on riding to the Inauguration in an open convertible.  When a police bike explodes perilously close to the car on the parade route, Killion smells trouble, but most others write it off as an accident, including the First Lady.  Indeed, she still doubts that anyone is trying to kill her after a private yacht she was supposed to be going aboard explodes, but Killy knows better, and no matter how much the First Lady wants to keep him from doing his job, he won’t rest until he finds out who’s behind it all, and why…

I find it incredible that the crew of Assassination actually got permission to use the real White House as a filming location.  Why?  Because, simply put, Assassination makes the US Secret Service look like a bunch of idiots.

Actually, Assassination makes pretty much everyone involved look like a bunch of idiots, from the Secret Service to the First Lady to the assassins themselves.  It’s as though at each decision point, everyone involved asked “what’s either the dumbest or at least the second dumbest thing we could possibly do next?”

The script doesn’t even bother with the rudiments of creating suspension of disbelief; writer Richard Sale appears to have decided that the audience is just always going to buy whatever’s on the screen no matter how ludicrous it is.  (Quick; who thinks that the First Lady would really be allowed to ride in a post-1963 inaugural parade in an open convertible, even before 2001?  Yeah, thought so.)  By the time fifteen minutes have gone by, Assassination has jumped more sharks than a Great White Nymphomaniac.  Yes, action fans are used to stretching things farther than Plasticman, but this script just goes too far when it comes to insulting the intelligence of its own characters, and of the audience.

And if you don’t believe the story, you’re really not going to believe that Assassination was directed by a man who once took the helm of a James Bond movie, but it’s true.  One can only assume that he took frequent naps during the production of this film and let other people take over most of the time, because when all is said and done, Assassination is so dreadfully dull that it doesn’t feel as though the movie deserves such an inflammatory title.

Granted, your first clue should have come from the fact that Assassination carries a PG-13 rating (and frankly, I do not see why it deserves even that strong of a rating; just plain PG would have been more than adequate), which is just never a good sign for a Charles Bronson flick.  As one might suspect from the rating, the action is very tame, even when the bazookas come out; indeed, the effects department should feel embarrassed about how terribly lame the attack on the helicopter looks.  Chase sequences are unexciting, and the climactic final encounter is filmed with all the tension of a wet rag.  (Granted, it doesn’t help that the audiences knows exactly how it will end well in advance, thanks to an earlier telegraph and the ability to put two and two together.)  The action feels so low-key that it’s just too hard to credit the idea that what we’re watching really is a relentless series of attempts on the First Lady’s life.  When one stacks this utter lack of tension and excitement on top of an already ridiculous script, suspension of disbelief is simply impossible here.

And when your audience can yawn while saying “oh, it’s just bullshit,” that’s the clear sign of a failed action movie.

Alas, for most movie fans, that’s exactly what Assassination is.  It’s dull, it’s predictable (if you don’t know the mastermind within five seconds of meeting him, you’re probably asleep), and it’s unbelievable in all the wrong ways.  And yet, even tacking on a score that sounds like stock music and an opening series of shots that probably are stock footage, Assassination still isn’t technically bad. 

The direction may be dull, but it is competent.  The script may be ludicrous (just how many shots does someone need to take at the First Lady before she admits she’s being gunned for, anyway?), but the plot is consistent and moves in a coherently straight line.  The acting is anywhere from fairly decent to really good across the board.  At the end of the day, Assassination is actually quite watchable.  It just doesn’t give the audience a compelling reason to want to watch it or to feel satisfied when it’s finished…

…Unless you’re a fan of Charles Bronson.

No matter what trash pile you throw him into, Charles Bronson can be counted on to make it smell better.  As always, he does a solid job here, and while he doesn’t get to kick as much ass as many fans are used to (and indeed, when his character does, the stunt doubles are really bad), he still brings that Everyman Hero presence that has endeared him to millions of fans.  Also as always, his chemistry with wife Jill Ireland is fantastic, both when they’re arguing and when they’ve decided to retract the claws.  For such a storied couple, they really deserved a better swan song together than this, but they themselves present no problems, and for their fans, their presence alone will make Assassination worth watching, no matter how tepid the rest of the movie is.

A shout out also needs to go to Jan Gan Boyd (Steele Justice), who plays Killy’s fellow agent and pining lover, Charlotte.  (He resists moving in with her because “I don’t want to die of a terminal orgasm.”)  Though her character can often come across as silly, Boyd herself is very enjoyable in the role, and also, in the end, deserves better than this movie gives her.

Bottom line, for most people, Assassination is just too bland to be worth the effort.  It’s not bad, but it is dull, and that can be even worse.  At best, it’s background noise and little else.  With that said, if you’re a fan of Charles Bronson (and especially of Bronson and his wife acting together), then Assassination will still be worth your time for that fact alone.  My best suggestion there is to pick it up as part of a multi-pack with a better movie included in the deal, and save this one for a rainy day or a sick day on the couch, when you’re looking for something to watch but having to pay close attention to it is more trouble than it’s worth.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, November, 2011


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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