Stars: Reece Thompson, Mischa Barton, Bruce Willis, Michael Rapaport, Melonie Diaz | Written by Kevin Jakubowski, Tim Calpin | Directed by Brett Simon
Boy, that cover is misleading. Full disclosure: The Assassination – originally Assassination of a High School President - isn’t a Bruce Willis actioner, he gets about ten minutes of screentime and the gun on the DVD is the only one in the film. It doesn’t actually fire bullets. But I suppose that’s the kind of marketing you can expect from a movie that bowed at festivals in 2008 and is only just getting a home video release.
Set an assignment to profile his school’s class president, intrepid/lazy reporter Bobby Funke (no relation to Arrested Development’s Tobias, though I suspect Bobby may once have been a never-nude) played by Reece Thompson unwittingly sets off a plot involving stolen exam papers, suspended students, Mischa Barton as a femme fatale and everyone’s favourite board game, quasi-incest. That just about covers it…oh, except that the misleadingly titled The Assassination is played as Raymond Chandler-lite with gumshoe voiceovers from Funke throughout and teenagers talking like middle aged lushes.
As much as it wants to be its equal, The Assassination plays like a lower-stakes Brick with much worse dialogue and a far less compelling plot. Bruce Willis is atrociously miscast as a supposedly hard-nosed school administrator who fails to intimidate or even live up to his previous heavy roles thanks to a consistently inconsistent high school-noir tone that makes all of Willis’ dialogue come off as contrived and false and a hilariously misjudged comic sequence in which his character leads an assembly in, er, ‘rapping’ about America. Yes, it’s as bad as you imagine.
The movie doesn’t quite toe the line between teen melodrama and high-concept filter quite as well as Youth In Revolt or the aforementioned Brick and often plays as insincere and the ill-fated romance between Thompson and Barton as the cool-but-bitchy popular girl never really struck me as believable, especially when the latter’s given lines like “get me a corsage with a pin. I don’t mind a prick every once in a while” to say with a straight face as if comparing a young boy’s penis to a sharp instrument is somehow sexy.
It’s not all bad, though: much of the humour comes from the solid supporting cast like a pre-Boardwalk Empire Vincent Piazza as a semi-incomprehensible Spaniard and Funke’s reporting rival’s tendency to swig from a hip flask when things go wrong is cheap but chucklesome. I also dug the Some Kind of Wonderful vibes given off by Bobby’s straight laced editor (Melonie Diaz) until it’s made clear that they were never going to pay off, despite the pair of them being given a cross-cut dance sequence at a party…which, if not to indicate that they were really meant to be together, was just to show that they were drunk, I guess?
In many ways it’s a misleading film, not least in how it’s being advertised. The best advice I can give you is to watch the trailer before you pick it up off the shelf at Blockbuster (some people still rent physical copies, right?). This kind of misdirective marketing is pretty frustrating to me as it must be the filmmakers who surely don’t want to see their film presented as something completely different just as I’d like to be able to tell my naff action movies from high school nonsense by the cover alone. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
The Assassination is out on DVD July 15th.