Having little breaks between these straight-to-streaming action features gives up-and-coming directors the chance to break off a flake of old-school legacy. Having Bruce Willis or Michael Madsen show up on screen for a little bit, by their logic, is a chance to draw in fans of each person. But audiences are presumably a little wiser to this practice now. Assassin, for all its budget package deal feel does have some sharp bits and pieces to it, even if those are buried deep beneath the shlock of the genre. There is a sense of something more to this one, but that could be the desperate clawings of science fiction and the mystery of imagery that is never entirely explained.
Whether that lack of explanation for the marks on elderly hands and the Assassin’s Creed-like sleeping pods, the ice bath becoming a rather cheap replacement, is because they forgot or because it is elusive, is hard to tell. Assassin is unhinged enough to make itself feel rather strange and it works quite nicely. Where the editing could do with some work, the cheap iMovie-like style of filler scenes and transitional cards a cheap blow, Jesse Atlas gives it a tremendous go on what could have been the humdrum dullness that infects these films. Competent at the best of times, Assassin has enough of a narrative flow and a genuine emotional connection to pounce on, and Andy Allo is great in that lead role. Mali has the emotional strings and ties needed for the desperate decisions and sense of placement that follows.
Willis presents more action and movement than usual for these sorts of pieces, and there is confidence here absent in his other appearances. Atlas is smart in utilising the man, brief notes of exposition that rely on the late-stage star being in a vulnerable position of power. Those two lines are rarely pulled off successfully, but Assassin is a fun little beast that answers why so many watch these features. Occasionally, just every now and then, there is an interesting idea or question posed by a filmmaker who has not had their chance in the sun. Assassin has some major faults to it, its dialogue fails to pop when most needed, but it holds an emotional core and keeps its imagery uniquely sinister. Twists and turns that feel well-matched by a story attempting to shore up its clear and obvious influences from the eerie imagery that is so constantly flicked through.
Assassin may not be as up to scratch as those glimmers of Brandon Cronenberg, but it is not far off. Generic titles do little to announce the actual last film from Willis. This is, by all accounts, the last one he made. It would appear Assassin was nearly the best of the bunch then, or close enough to it. His legacy still stands firm and his appearance here gives him the decency to go out with a bang. Surprising, considering the state of some other features he has appeared in over the last couple of years. Retirement comes for everyone at some stage, whether that is the permanent shuffle of death or the acceptance of doing a last bit of work to square up whatever comes next. Willis marks that with Assassin, and by some miracle, it is not the worst way for the action hero to call time.