Throughout his illustrious career, comedic titan Kevin James has played an incredible array of characters. He’s been an hapless zookeeper, a hapless mall cop, a hapless co-worker, a hapless firefighter, a hapless mixed marital artist, and even a hapless President of the United States. Although compared to Donald Trump, he probably had more of a clue…
However in 2016, James steps it up a gear and becomes a hapless crime fighter in the explanatory titled True Memoirs of an International Assassin. This latest addition from the ever-expanding vault of Netflix Original offerings is about as dour and meandering as its central star; lacking charisma, validity, and even thematic value. Laden with incoherent storytelling, endlessly tedious characters, and consistently unfunny jokes, this is one action-comedy to seriously avoid.
Sam Larson (James) is a struggling author desperately attempting to finish his novel and land a sweet print deal. After completing his fictional story “Memoirs of an International Assassin”, a hot online publisher decides to grant him the press, but there’s a catch. They operate in the Cloud, and his book will be a digital download only. Also, they conveniently place the word “True” at the beginning of the title, and shift the format to non-fiction. Soon audiences across the globe believe Sam is actually The Ghost; the enigmatic, super-slaying and all-stealth hero from his pages, and he finds himself in Venezuela after a freak kidnapping. Now Sam is tasked with jobs that only his protagonist could accomplish. He has but two choices: become The Ghost, or face certain death.
The opening sequence of True Memoirs of an International Assassin is arguably the film at its most creative and engaging. We see The Ghost in action as he flips, punches, shoots and stabs his way through a Casino Royale-inspired set piece, only to stop mid-action as Sam attempts to conjure up the next line. Suddenly targets become pals as they loiter in negative space – taking a tea-break of sorts – before Sam’s fingers start slapping keys again and the violence continues. In these brief moments, the audiences is almost fooled. Thoughts like “this could actually be a good Kevin James movie…” flush the brain with perplexing euphoria, but the rush fades almost instantaneously, and the comedown is absolutely unbearable.
Co-written and directed by Jeff Wadlow – the genius mind behind Cry_Wolf and Never Back Down – with scripting assistance from Jeff Morris of Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever fame, it isn’t exactly hard to see why the narrative is so shambolic. Constantly leaning on the support of inept genre tropes, and even worse previous works (it basically just plagiarises Romancing the Stone…), never outside of those first five minutes does the film have anything unique, humorous, or remotely interesting to say.
James just plays himself yet again; cranking up the mind-blowingly annoying panic acting like he does in every movie. It must be a Kevin thing because Kevin Hart provides the exact same act. James is constantly overwhelmed by his environment and scenario, and frequently escapes to the fantastical world of his book in which audiences see how The Ghost would tackle the current predicament. It is an acceptable gag once, but True Memoirs of an International Assassin looks to it at least five times across its tiny 98 minute running time.
Others along for the internationally terrible ride include Andy Garcia (why?) as Venezuelan freedom fighter El Toro who asks Sam to execute the corrupt and long-standing President Miguel ‘Mike’ Cueto (Kim Coates, the best performer in the entire movie). Meanwhile the seductive Zulay Henao occupies the typical unbelievable female role in a Kevin James film, in which we as the viewers are supposed to buy a somewhat romantic relationship between them. It isn’t quite as absurd as Rosairo Dawson in Zookeeper, but it ain’t far off. Also rounding out the under-appriciated cast include Rob Riggle, P.J. Byrne and Andrew Howard, who continues to add to his career of typical gangster roles.
Visually, True Memoirs of an International Assassin is as messy as that godawful title. Wadlow switches his camera with such complacency that big fight sequences play out in tiny, suffocated frames. He never shows any signs of dexterity behind the lens, and enables his film to screen without a sense of coordination or control. An extended battle showdown between Henao’s ass-kicking Rosa and Howard’s snore-inducing Masovich journeys around a huge, sprawling building; crashing through hallways, rooms and windows. Not once does the imagery seem to alter and adapt to the fight. We just slam up and down with them, bruising our way around without any real connection to the altercation. After about 90 seconds, you are so braindead from repetitive boredom that you hope one of them just dies already.
There is nothing redeeming or impressive about this latest entry from Netflix, and it further proves that they have little understanding of narrative filmmaking. Their documentaries and original programming are great, but their features are consistently woeful. Whilst you might be dying to get your next Kevin James fix (you aren’t; we are just being funny), do your intellect a favour and give this one a miss…
True Memoirs of an International Assassin is available to stream on Netflix UK from today (Friday 11th November).