(2003) (Robert Duvall, Luciana Pedrazza) (R)
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- QUICK TAKE:
- Drama: While awaiting his target in Buenos Aires, a professional assassin becomes entranced by the tango and one of its dancers.
- John J (ROBERT DUVALL) is a middle-aged man who's as fond of ballroom dancing as he is 10-year-old Jenny (KATHERINE MICHEAUX MILLER) who's the daughter of his live-in girlfriend, Maggie (KATHY BAKER). He's also a hitman whose latest assignment from boss Frankie (FRANK GIO) nearly overlaps Jenny's birthday.
He reluctantly accepts the job under the condition that he can be back for that and thus heads off for Buenos Aries. There, he meets Miguel (RUBEN BLADES) and Orlando (JULIO OSCAR MECHOSO) who want him to assassinate Humberto Rojas (ELVIO NESSIER), a retired but formerly barbaric general.
After meeting Frankie's Argentine counterpart, Tony Manas (RAUL OUTEADA), John sets out to fit into the surroundings and stake out his objective. While doing so, he comes across a dance hall where the sounds of the tango and the sight of one its dancers, Manuela (LUCIANA PEDRAZZA), immediately entrance him.
When he learns that his target's arrival is delayed and won't be arriving for three weeks, John sets out to learn more about Manuela and the dance, all while preparing for his hit.
- OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
- Call me crazy, but whenever I hear or see the tango, I automatically think of people hired to kill others. It must be that incessant beat or the heated passion on the part of the dancers. Then again, when I think of assassins, that Latin American ballroom dance comes to mind, perhaps due to the rhythm the shooter needs in order to execute his mission.
Okay, so I don't really have such associations. Apparently Robert Duvall does, however, or at least thinks such a pairing would be interesting, as he's brought the two together in the appropriately titled "Assassination Tango." An odd and uneven little effort, the film puts Duvall both in front of and behind the camera for the first time since his 1997 picture, "The Apostle."
Like that effort, this one features a strong-willed and complex but conflicted protagonist. Rather than being a Texas preacher who goes on the run after seriously injuring his wife's lover, however, Duvall ("Gods and Generals," "John Q") plays a New York hitman with a penchant for ballroom dancing.
His newest obsession is the tango, a dance he observes while "on location" for a job in Buenos Aires. Yes, it's as weird as it sounds and the two disparate halves of the story - hanging out with an alluring tango dancer vs. plotting to kill a retired but formerly brutal Argentine general - just don't mesh that well.
The "assassins are human too" angle will likely remind some viewers of "The Professional" where hitman Leon becomes a father figure of sorts to young Natalie Portman. This one's not as interesting, engaging or well-made as that Luc Besson effort, although it's far from the disaster that it might sound like.
Duvall's take on "John J" is flawed but compelling, both from the written and acted perspective. On one hand, he's a caring and attentive "stepfather" to his live-in girlfriend's 10-year-old daughter -- Katherine Micheaux Miller (making her debut) - and there's that genuine interest and participation in dancing.
His introduction to the tango isn't as accidental as was the similar case in the far more enjoyable but considerably less violent "Shall We Dance?" but his apparent (or feigned) ignorance of the dance feels a little too forced.
The same holds true for the reason behind his extended stay in Buenos Aires - that being his intended target becoming laid up and not expected to arrive for three more weeks. Since missing his stepdaughter's upcoming birthday was such a big deal earlier in the plot, it seems unlikely that he'd stay rather than return for the celebration and then head back for the job.
A few tweaks in Duvall's script could have fixed that, along with other similarly contrived moments, some of which involve behavior a savvy and seasoned hitman wouldn't be caught dead doing. Although they don't derail the film, they certainly don't help matters and give the effort somewhat of a sloppy storytelling feel.
The other half of the character regards the assassin side. For that Duvall sports a ponytail (presumably to make the "old man" look younger, hip and/or capable) and goes through all of the standard planning any proficient hitman would. The portrayal is okay but not as riveting as it should be and certainly isn't anything terribly remarkable.
It's far better, however, than that of Duvall's real-life girlfriend, Luciana Pedrazza, who makes her acting debut. While she fits the part on the dance floor and has an unforced air about her, her non-dance moments don't exactly glide across the screen.
Ruben Blades ("All the Pretty Horses," "Cradle Will Rock"), Julio Oscar Mechoso ("Pumpkin," "Tortilla Soup"), Frank Gio ("One Tough Cop," "My Blue Heaven") and Raul Outeada (making his acting debut) play various men involved in setting up and/or helping carry out the assassin's job. Beyond Blades' so-so character, however, they're pretty much throwaway roles.
Not as enjoyable as the cinematic adaptations of Elmore Leonard's crime works (such as "Get Shorty" or "Out of Sight") or engaging or intriguing as "The Professional," let alone any number of movies about dancing, "Assassination Tango" has its moments. It also has the guts to mix the two dissimilar subjects together into a film.
Yet, the combination isn't as effective or interesting at it could have been. The result is a film that feels like the writer, director and star was too blinded by his interest in the subject matter to make a good movie about it. As a result, the film rates as a 4 out of 10.
Reviewed March 24, 2003 / Posted April 4, 2003
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