This month’s version of “Assassins who primp” is Jessica Chastain, pale and perfectly put-together murderess for hire as “Ava.”
She’s a woman of mystery whose job is “closing” targets for “management,” getting striking little splashes of blood on that immaculate makeup that’s been a trademark of the genre since Nikita the femme gave birth to it.
Only she’s not a woman of mystery, and that’s the first way this action pic goes wrong. Her resume, pretty much all of it, is splashed in montage form in the opening credits.
That’s after she’s play-acted as driver to a financier (Ioan Gruffudd) and broken every protocol in the book by questioning him instead of just simply “closing” him.
“What’d you do? Why would someone not want you to be alive any more?”
Her end of the bargain? “A good death.” She quotes Croesus, for Pete’s sake.
“Count no man happy until the end is known.”
How that jibes with the high school athlete/junkie/ex-military killing machine the background montage lay out is anybody’s guess. Maybe that’s where “Ava” teeters into self-parody.
John Malkovich, in a bit of on-the-nose casting, is Ava’s handler, the former agent now handing her assignments and arranging logistics. Yeah, he can still do fight choreography. Colin Farrell is “management,” the promoted-from-the-ranks higher up calling the shots.
And then there’s the messy “past” and home life that’s back in Boston, where Ava’s mom (Geena Davis, who played a female assassin in “The Long Kiss Goodnight”) has angina and her singer/songwriter sister (Jess Weixler, who played Chastain’s sister in “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”) has taken up with Ava’s ex (Common).
Another complication? The mysterious Chinese entrepreneur/bookie (Joan Chen) running a hot night club that Ava finds the time to bust up.
Girlfriend’s got…issues. But she can take a punch and Chastain can take a fall, even if she’s not the best at disguising the throw-weight physics of a to-the-death brawl.
Tate Taylor, the director who made Chastain a star in “The Help” is behind the camera here, and while he’s dabbled in violence with “Ma” and intrigue with “The Girl on the Train,” he’s out of his depth. Not so much as actor turned screenwriter Matthew Newton (“Who are We Now,” “From Nowhere,””Three Blind Mice”). They’ve teamed up to clutter up what is, by genre necessity, meant to be mean and lean.
Setting some of the violence to dreamy synth pop? Not
After that first “closing,” things progress on such a predictable path that the only enticement to continuing is the notion that we’ll get to see many a “good death.”
Here’s a tip. Try not to bore us so much next time.
MPA Rating: R for violence and language throughout, and brief sexual material
Cast: Jessica Chastain, John Malkovich, Common, Jess Weixler, Joan Chen, Diana Silvers, Ioan Gruffudd and Colin Farrell.
Credits: Directed by Tate Taylor. A Voltage Film/Netflix release.
Running time: 1:36