Saturday, June 30, 2012


Freshman director Fouad Mikati's "Operation Endgame" is a contrived actioneer about two rival teams of top secret government assassins who try to wipe out each other with office products.  Okay, this mildly funny 81-minute thriller never scrapes the bottom of the barrel, but it squanders a good cast.  Ellen Barkin, Maggie Q, Zach Galifianakis, Ving Rhames, Rob Corddry, and Jeffrey Tabor struggle to make the best of a second-rate situation. Some of the close quarters combat scenes conclude with a surprise or two.  Corddry spouts the best lines of dialogue laced with profanity. Mikati and “Bandits” scenarist Sam Levinson spend the first twenty minutes providing hopelessly loquacious exposition about the Factory as well as the agents and their reputations.  They do an adequate job of sketching at least one dimension into a gallery of oddball characters, but they emerge a little more than caricatures.  Mikati alternates the action between the personnel in the underground facility and two men and one woman who maintain surveillance above them.  These two guys furnish commentary about what happens in “Operation Endgame.” Essentially, they represent another perspective on the plot that we would not get from the assassins below them. The CGI depiction of the Factory is reminiscent of the graphic depiction of the Hive in the first “Resident Evil” epic.

“Operation Endgame” opens as a new agent, Fool (Jon Anderson of “The Grey”), shows up for his first day on the job. Undoubtedly, some of the humor is fueled by the irony that the first day at work for our protagonist could be his final day.  According to Alpha agent High Priestess (Maggie Q of “Priest”), the Factory is an elite espionage cell that the U.S. government doesn’t acknowledge. Unofficial covert operatives staff the agency.  Another agent, Chariot (Rob Corddry of “Semi-Pro”)  informs the na├»ve Fool that the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff created the Factory in 1962 primarily for ‘false flag operations.'  He adds that President Lyndon Johnson instituted the two team system in 1967 to create a balance the power.  The Omega team intervenes when presidents, UN officials, and American politicians condemn the military industrial complex and urge Congress to halt the spending hundreds of billions of dollars on endless wars.  Conversely, Alpha exists to thwart Omega “from bringing forth the apocalypse."  Fool concludes that the two team systems achieve little more than a stalemate.  One individual designated as ‘the Devil’ (Jeffrey Tabor of "The Hangover") supervises both teams. According to Chariot, the Devil is “a portly bastard with manicured nails, no real field experience, and the sharp wit of a six-year of autistic boy.”

All agents must disarm themselves and place their firearms and other weapons into lockers before they can descend by elevator into the bowels of the Factory.  The Devil makes them disarm themselves because he fears one of them may attempt to kill him.  Despite this precaution, somebody does kill the Devil and all Hell breaks loose.  The action takes place in an underground complex called 'The Factory' and the opposing bands of killers draw their names from Tarot cards.  Devil summons them for a conference, but he doesn’t live enough to convene it because Hermit (Zach Galifianakis of “The Hangover”) stabs him to death with several pencils.  The demise of Devil, however, triggers a system the augurs ill for the Alpha and Omega agents.  Operation Endgame commences with a two hour countdown to destruction.  According to Alpha agent Magician (Adam Scott of “Step Brothers”), “Project Endgame is The Factory’s be-all, end-all contingency device.  It activates a physical and communicative lockdown before setting a time that will vaporize this place at the end of two hours.” The two teams decide to team up to find Hermit and try to escape before everything blows.  The most imaginative that "Operation Endgame" gets occurs when the assassins have to improvise to create weapons so they can kill each other.  Empress (Ellen Barkin of “The Fan”) utilizes a staple remover to rip a man’s neck open, while another woman, Hierophant (Emilie de Ravin of “Public Enemies”), wields the leg off a chair to kill a man, Judgment (Ving Rhames of “Pulp Fiction”), who is twice her size.  Chariot takes a paper shredding cartridge to kill an adversary.
Altogether,“Operation Endgame” is like “Reservoir Dogs” done with a government spin.  Something goes horribly wrong in the first half-hour, and everybody tries to slaughter each other with ordinary, everyday office products.  Mikati does a fair-to-middling job staging the action scenes.  He doesn’t shrink from showing blood and gore, but not enough occurs here to gross anybody out. Unfortunately, despite its modest production values and its competent but misused cast, "Operation Endgame" isn't memorable, either for its combat sequences or its hilarity. The sight of Chariot swilling liquor from a bottle shaped like an automatic pistol gets old fast. The gals all look pretty good, except for Ellen Barkin. She looks like a monster in her tight-fitting outfit.  I bought this lackluster shoot'em up on Blu-ray from a discount bin at Walgreen's Drug Store and paid $5.99 plus tax for it. As comedies go, "Operation Endgame" is neither funny nor fresh.  This film fares better as a standard issue shoot'em up rather than a satire.