For a guy who goes by "Sly," Sylvester Stallone doesn't make very many smart movies. And despite Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon, Superman) in the director's chair and a screenplay credited to Andy Wachowski & Larry Wachowski (The Matrix) and Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential), Sly's 1995 actioner Assassins is no exception. Assassins is strictly by the numbers: playing yet another killer with a heart of gold, Stallone runs and guns till the movie's done (at 133 minutes, it takes a while).
This time, Stallone plays Robert Rath, the world's greatest hitman. Though he's weary of the job, he gets a jolt of adrenaline when younger competitor Miguel Bain (Antonio Banderas) arrives on the scene and threatens Rath's top standing by beating him to his latest kill. According to the reasonable assumption made by Assassins, the hitman's worst nightmare is becoming "the mark" instead of taking out the mark, and Rath fears that Miguel will not only poach the jobs Rath is no longer sure he wants, but, worse, take Rath out. Warily (but not too warily—or logically—or the movie would be over), Rath proceeds to the next job offered by an unseen client: to kill hacker and cat fancier "Electra" (Julianne Moore, doing time between Short Cuts and Boogie Nights) along with her latest clients, and collect a disc (there's always a disc, don'cha know). But Rath's conscience gets the better of him: the better for audience identification, he's committed to killing only those people who deserve to die. And so Robert and Electra go on the run from Bain, setting the stage for a showdown somewhere in the Caribbean (the better for a tiresomely symbolic "Day of the Dead" backdrop), not so coincidentally the very place Rath did the job that has haunted him ever since.
Donner's decades of experience lend the film the veneer of competence (most notably in an early high-speed drive-and-fight sequence), and so does the photography of Oscar winner Vilmos Zsigmond (The Deer Hunter, Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Still, the script is pretty much entirely witless, with blandly archetypal characters that never take on any life: Moore comes close by giving Electra a slightly nutty air of distracted intelligence, but Banderas can do little more than manically toss his hair and cackle his way through the arbitrary "villain" role. The extended climax involving sniper Bain staking out the bank where Rath will seal his deal would be completely boilerplate were it not so nonsensical: by the time Rath and Bain have it out in a ramshackle, condemned motel with floors that keep giving away under them, we realize this final setting is a metaphor for the film itself.
Assassins looks quite sporty in its Blu-ray debut. Like the other three films in Warner's current wave of Stallone releases, this one gets the natural treatment, with no apparent digital tampering to the image. Given its relatively recent vintage, Assassins fares well, with lively color, strong detail, and well-calibrated contrast for a clean, stable picture delivering solid detail and texture. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix does just as well, offering low-key directional effects while putting the emphasis on clear dialogue and subtle musical presentation. The sole extra on the disc is the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:42, SD).
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