We’ve come to expect a certain base level of violent ridiculousness and salaciousness from low-budget genre films with titles such as Assassin’s Bullet. But in the case of director Isaac Florentine’s truly awful thriller, its guilty-pleasure sleaziness plays second fiddle to a terribly self-serious narrative that becomes one of the most asinine riffs ever on the Vertigo narrative, where a female’s mind is mentally dominated and her body is physically altered to fulfill one traumatized man’s exotic love fantasy.
As if to establish a symbolic pattern of lifeless figures hiding an undercurrent of extreme emotional repression, the film opens with a montage of different statues whose contorted faces are frozen in rage. The series of shots strangely echoes the famous lion sequence from Battleship Potemkin, except Florentine subsumes all ideological or political meaning beneath a volley of jump cuts and flashy snap zooms. Moments later, a smooth and effective killer dressed in black leather, personifying the hardened emotion found on those stone-faced idols, murders an entire platoon of jihadists inside a dank apartment without breaking a sweat.
This kinetic editing comes to represent the disjointed perspective of Vicki (Elika Portnoy), a beautiful schoolteacher suffering from blackouts caused by witnessing her parents’ death at the hands of a suicide bomber. Set in Sofia, a bleak Bulgarian city that’s an apparent hotbed of post-9/11 terrorist activity, Assassin’s Bullet jumps from Vicki’s incredibly volatile experience to the equally conflicted POV of Robert (Christian Slater), an ex-FBI agent and current ESL envoy to the U.S. ambassador’s office who’s firmly planted himself in Sofia’s exotic daily routine in order to forget his traumatic past. When Robert’s seemingly powerless boss (Donald Sutherland) asks him to investigate a wave of assassinations against local high-level terrorists, he’s forcibly thrust back into the counter-terrorism game.
Assassin’s Bullet attempts to be both a clever thriller/procedural and a convincing romance film, all the while playing coy with its threadbare political commentary about Western imperialism. While two key action sequences thrive under a more restrained editorial hand, unfolding in long takes that allow for a fluid sense of movement and pacing, Assassin’s Bullet is maligned with gaping plot holes, terrible expository dialogue (“Oh, you’re still punishing yourself for the accident”), and obvious moments of foreshadowing. All of these elements make the film potential fodder for MST3K fans jonesing for their latest kitsch fix.