The spy/assassin thriller “Anna” opens in 1985, flashes forward “five years later,” then flashes back “three years before,” then forward months, backward “three months earlier,” back and forth repeatedly all the way to the damned closing credits.
It’s no wonder writer-director Luc Besson lost track, here and there, of where he was — which Mercedes SUV that crashes into a ancient Soviet Trabant wasn’t yet in production, when flip phones first went on the market, etc.
So there are a lot of irritants and clumsy touches to Besson’s latest, infuriatingly inferior version of “La Femme Nikita” that ruin it.
You don’t even have to know Besson, who always likes’em young (Remember how he presented Natalie Portman in “Leon/The Professional?”) and turns many of his leading ladies into versions of one of the young ones he married (Milla Jovovich), was accused of drugging and raping a starlet during the production to strike “Anna” off your “must see” list. “Insufficient evidence” there, insufficient movie here.
Sasha Luss is the latest Besson protege, a willowy slip of a model cast as a “honey trap” recruited to the KGB and turned into an assassin who can shoot, stab and brawl her way out rooms full of bodyguards and others not wanting to be assassinated by a platinum blonde or bewigged brunette.
“Never put your faith in men,” her handler (Luke Evans) purrs. “Put your faith in yourself.”
And thus she is “tested” by the boss (Helen Mirren), slaughtering her way through a fine dining establishment in the heady, lawless days just after the Berlin Wall fell.
If you’ve ever wondered how hard it is and how long it might take to kill somebody with a fork, well this is the movie for you.
Right from the start, she’s looking for an exit strategy, only to be told “Dere izz only von vay to leave KGB. You vant to find out vat it izz?”
The French, and their dog walkers (Besson hates French authority, and revels in showing “the good guys” are no better than the bad ones as far as the U.S. is concerned) the CIA are onto her pretty early on. Cillian Murphy is the silky smooth agent on her case, not immune to the allure of “Anna.”
Few are. A French model (Lera Abova) tumbles into an affair with her and everybody in Besson-world wants their sex with her to be of the rough and ready kind — another Besson male wish fulfillment fantasy trademark.
But even though Luss (she was also in Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”) handles the action choreography with skill and emotes better than your average model turned actress, “Anna” left me cold.
The simple physics of the fights is more worthy of Bugs Bunny cartoons than reality.
And the pointless flashbacks over-explain the patently obvious.
Besson was smart to revisit one of the films that made him, and still can expertly shoot and cut a mean car chase (he produced “The Transporter” franchise). But whatever the verdict of the Polanski-tolerant French justice system, the critical verdict on “Anna” is that he’s outsmarted himself and made an inferior copy of “Nikita.”
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language, and some sexual content
Cast: Sasha Luss, Helen Mirren, Cillian Murphy, Luke Evans
Credits: Written and directed by Luc Besson. A Summit/Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:59