Thursday, October 18, 2012

Four Assassins: Who Ordered Room Service?

Although it might sound glamorous, life as a contract killer can be a grind.  Yes, there is a lot of travel, but you never really get to see the sights.  For instance, a quartet of professionals are in Hong Kong on business, but they will spend all their time in a hotel room throughout Stanley J. Orzel’s Four Assassins (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Marcus was not expecting his old flame Cordelia to knock on the door of his hotel room.  She is not just an ex, she is also a colleague.  He has never previously met the muscle she brought with her, but he and Chase take an instant disliking to each other.  Being blindsided by the thug from Gibraltar does not help much.  They are waiting for one more mystery guest to arrive: Eli, the crafty veteran who mentored both Marcus and Cordelia.

It seems Marcus came up one body short on his last gig and the big boss wants some answers.  However, the hitman is feigning innocence, if that’s the right term.  As they wait for instructions from the man, the four titular assassins will verbally spar, tell sea stories, and look for weaknesses to exploit.

Aside from periodic flashbacks, 4A is almost entirely set within Marcus’s suite.  At least, it is a nice hotel.  In fact, the film has the feeling of stage thriller, as conceived by Tarantino or Johnnie To.  Orzel (an American expat filmmaker, whose credits include work on several Zhang Yimou epics) makes a virtue of the one set limitations, producing a caged tiger vibe.  Given it starts in media res, there are not a lot of shocking plot revelations in store for viewers, per se, but his dialogue is notably sharp.

Those pointed exchanges definitely play to the strengths of Miguel Ferrer, best known to children of the 80’s and 90’s as pathologist Albert Rosenfield on Twin Peaks and the slimy executive who creates Robocop in the original 1987 film.  He is perfect for the role of Eli, the sardonic, world weary senior assassin.  Will Yun Lee (recognizable from Witchblade and the Hawaii Five-O reboot) looks appropriately haggard yet dangerous as Marcus, the protagonist assassin.  Mercedes Renard also holds her own quite nicely during the cutting exchanges, but Oliver Williams’ Chase comes across like someone doing a Cary Elwes impersonation, which could very well have been what the casting notice called for.

4A might be a B-movie-ish affair, but it has a strong noir sensibility, nicely enhanced by the richly appointed set crafted by Longman Leung’s design team.  Orzel adroitly maintains the pace and tension, getting nice assists from his small ensemble, especially Ferrer.  Though small in scope, it is a rather entertaining dark little hitman thriller, recommended for genre fans who do not require a lot of high concept action sequences when it opens tomorrow (10/19) at the Laemmle NoHo 7 in North Hollywood.