Friday, May 11, 2018

Assassin’s Code: To Live and Die in Cleveland

You could say it is like a “creed.” Supposedly, hitman Kurt Schlychter plies his trade according to rigid framework of ethics, but it is hard to pick up on it, until he flat out tells us late in the third act. Throughout most of the film, he acts perfectly willing to cap anyone Cleveland’s secret crime boss pays him to off. Thanks to Schlychter, Angelo Leonetti successfully kept his real business on the down-low, but blundering rookie cop Michael Connolly could very well mess-up the arrangement in David A. Armstrong’s The Assassin’s Code (trailer here), which opens today in Los Angeles.

Technically, Connolly’s father died while on duty, but the suspicious circumstances ruined his reputation. Yet, instead of a supervillain or a vigilante, he follows in his old man’s footsteps, becoming a shunned and despised Cleveland police detective. Captain Jack O’Brien, his father’s former partner, assigns him busywork, but he manages to land the case of a hijacked police evidence truck filled with meth, by being in the right place at the right time.

Thanks to some guidance from Laura Consolo, the public prosecutor, Connolly focuses on Leonetti right from the start. Unfortunately, Schlychter keeps killing his witnesses. He also starts keeping tabs on Connolly’s wife Jia, a cellist on the Cleveland symphony that just so happens to be bankrolled by city benefactor, Angelo Leonetti.

Armstrong seems to be going for the vibe of Andrew Davis’s Code of Silence, one of the more ambitious Chuck Norris movies of the mid-1980s that combined high-flying action with realistic crooked cop intrigue. Unfortunately, Justin Chatwin is a little too nebbish as Connolly and Peter Stormare is so flamboyantly weird as Schlychter, it never really convinces us. Plus, Stormare has a scene in which the hitman chronicles his grandfather’s reluctant service as a German grunt in WWII to the utterly baffled Jia Connolly that is amazingly tonally wrong, in about half a dozen ways.

Still, the film is relatively gritty and both Elizabeth Anweis and Mark Thompson (former co-host of the once-popular Mark and Brian radio show) are quite strong as Jia Connolly and Captain O’Brien. It is a bit mind-blowing to see Witchblade’s Yancy Butler turn up as the long-stymied Consolo, but she isn’t bad lecturing Connolly. As a pleasant surprise, Assassin’s Code is nicely supported by a stylish crime-jazz-influenced soundtrack, featuring trumpet solos by Chris Tedesco and saxophone solos by Ian Roller.

Assassin’s Code is definitely a grubby B-movie, but it is Cleveland’s grubby B-movie. The screenplay by Edward Lee Cornett and Valerie Grant is a mostly by-the-numbers affair, but there is a bit of style to Armstrong’s execution. It sounds good, even when it behaves somewhat slow-wittedly. We have seen worse, but you can safely wait for it to stream on Netflix or whatever. For those determined to represent for Cleveland, it opens today (5/11) in LA at the Arena Cinelounge and in Jersey at the Williams Center Cinema.