1995, R, 105 min. Directed by Richard Donner. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas, Julianne Moore.

REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., Oct. 6, 1995

A surprisingly effective thriller, Assassins is much better than it needs to be, thanks mainly to a fast-paced script and two great supporting performances. Stallone, fresh from the not-as-bad-as-you've-heard, box-office flop Judge Dredd, takes on a much quieter role here than usual: that of world-weary professional killer “Robert Rath,” an individual well known as the top hit man in the business. Unfortunately for our hero, a young, wild-card rival has decided that he wants that particular title for himself and plans to terminate Sly and usurp his vaulted position. Further complicating matters is “Electra,” a feisty computer expert and information thief whom Stallone's mysterious employer wants dead. Of course, Stallone decides to rebel against his backstabbing boss, who is obviously setting him up to be killed, and before long the pair are on the run to the Caribbean, with Rath's young nemesis following close behind. Stallone is serviceable as the melancholy assassin with a past, and Julianne Moore (who gave an extraordinary performance in Todd Haynes' recent Safe) lends solid support as the woman who ultimately manages to give meaning to our hero's life, but it's Antonio Banderas who clearly gives the movie's stand-out performance: Effortlessly charismatic, graceful, and wickedly funny, Banderas is every bit as much fun here as he was in this summer's Desperado, with the screen just about exploding with energy whenever he appears. Other pluses include the handsome cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond and the mood-setting score from composer Mark Mancina, both of which clearly draw their inspiration from various noir influences. Director Donner helms Assassins well enough, I suppose, having thankfully (more or less) dispensed with the self-conscious humor that plagued his own Lethal Weapon III and Maverick in favor of an appropriately hard-boiled atmosphere. Occasionally, though, it feels like Donner simply doesn't have the edge necessary to pull off the picture's darker moments, making me, for one, wonder what a director like John Woo or Walter Hill might have been able to do with this same material. Nevertheless, Assassins is a fun, highly entertaining, action picture with several great moments of humor and suspense, dished out with a taste of genuine wit.

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Assassins, Richard Donner, Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas, Julianne Moore

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