Wannabe John Wick Flick Can’t Keep Up

The logline: An assassin discovers that he must kill six other assassins or be assassinated himself. The world is their arena, and only one can come out alive. A kill-or-be-killed globe-trotting action thriller starring Henry Golding and Noomi Rapace sounds like the perfect recipe for a fun time after the massive success of John Wick. Is there the possibility of being called redundant or generic due to such a powerhouse franchise already existing? Yes. But if it is fun, then it doesn’t matter, but fun is a bit of a reach for Assassin Club.

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Morgan Gaines (Golding) is a former Royal Marines-turned-assassin who is handed six new contracts. Each target is worth a million dollars, but the catch is they have the same contracts, and he is one of the targets. A deadly game ensues while Morgan seriously considers leaving the life to be with his girlfriend Sophie (Daniela Melchior). The premise evokes the impossible task Viggo Tarasov gave John Wick when he asked to stop being an assassin, but Assassin Club can’t even grab hold of the potential of this narrative and has the great misfortune of being a sad imitation of a masterpiece.

Assassin Club‘s main issue is that despite a promising setup, borderline decent performances, and well-intentioned visual choices, the craftsmanship leaves much to be desired. The action is serviceable at best. Camille Delamarre’s direction is unfocused at times, reminiscent of the action films of the mid-2000s that featured way too much shaky cam, awkward close-ups, and a dizzying amount of cuts. Ingenuity is lacking, and aesthetic appeal is far from reach. The movie rightfully feels hastily made and is devoid of personality, and this extends to the script.

I imagine a group of old men in ill-fitted suits seated around a ridiculously ornate table demanding they hire someone to write their own John Wick. They don’t care about the details, except there must be a guy, and a bunch of people trying to kill him, set in a world where there is a secret society for killers. Assassin Club is that movie. A narrative like this relies on execution over originality. The script’s problems become blindingly evident, with the film being, technically-speaking, abysmal. The movie is overly complicated, with a whole backstory to justify an assassin vs. assassin story that need not be explained. With a comedic slant, Assassin Club would have been an excellent parody, think John Wick meets Scary Movie. Ultimately, the jumbled mess of ideas culminates in an unorganized, unimaginative, and bloated heap.

A bad movie is one thing, but a bad one with a star who can’t muster up the charisma to shine despite ineffectual directing and a lackluster script is a career killer. As the lead, Golding doesn’t even inspire exceptional performances from his costars as Daniela Melchior plays the damsel-in-distress cliché as if it’s a chore, and Noomi Rapace strolls through with so little commitment you can easily forget that she has quite an impressive resume. Sam Neill is present. It is hard to be tough on actors who are only one small part of a larger creative machine, but their lackadaisical performances are a reflection of the whole production.

Assassin Club has the great misfortune of arriving on the heels of John Wick 4. The Keanu Reeves-led action franchise has raised the standards of action thrillers. Sadly, only some have come close to its impenetrable world-building, dynamic characters, visual aesthetics, or creative and impactful action sequences. Assassin Club has a great concept. Assassins are unwittingly thrown into a gladiator-type battle, with the planet as their arena — it’s fabulous. But as is the case with any movie, great idea or not, the execution is always the determining factor for its success. Assassin Club has the benefit of starring a relatively well-known actor, but even Golding can’t save this movie from its mediocrity. Any hope Assassin Club had of being good is squandered within the first ten minutes.

Assassin Club is now available digitally and will be on home video June 6. It is 111 minutes long and rated R for violent content and language.

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