Saturday, September 26, 2015


"Ninja Assassin" director James McTeigue's "Survivor" (***1/2 OUT OF ****) qualifies as a tense, London-based, international-terrorist thriller about a wrongly accused American Foreign Service Officer sought for murdering a colleague, while a lethal assassin pursues her to finish his execution.  Milla Jovovich plays the heroine, but she isn't in full kick butt "Resident Evil" mode, wielding weapons and mixed martial arts. Instead, she is simply exemplary at her job, rides a motorcycle with style, speaks several languages, and knows how to stay one step ahead of her fleet-footed adversaries.  Nevertheless, while this makes her an efficient, no-nonsense protagonist, nothing about her character is terribly interesting. In a splendid example of casting against the grain, former 007 star Pierce Brosnan exudes menace as an evil assassin who refuses to quit. Brosnan's hit-man is nicknamed 'the Watchmaker,' and he is both smart and resourceful.  One of 'the Watchmaker's smartest efforts occurs when he takes a short-cut to catch up with our heroine as she scrambles down a staircase.  The Watchmaker spots a series of lights attached by a cable dangling in the stairway well.  Improbably, he leaps onto it and shoots out the lights as he slides down the cable.  Of course, he doesn't get her, but it is a really cool move of his part. This scene is reminiscent of Matt Damon in "The Bourne Identity" when he used a man's body to drop from several floors in a stairway well to reach the bottom.  A solid supporting cast, with James D'Arcy and Angela Bassett in minor roles, backs up Jovovich and Brosnan.  At the core of this outlandish but briskly-paced thriller is a terrorist's ambitious plan to use the New Year's Eve ceremonies in Times Square as the setting to detonate a bomb.  McTeigue maintains palatable tension throughout this above-average nail-biter despite a minor lapse in credibility that occurs about three-fourths of the way through his 96-minute, PG-13 melodrama.

Passport visa clearance is a hot issue at the American Embassy in London where Kate works, and she has the final say on who gets a passport.  Nonetheless, a fellow Embassy employee, Bill Talbot (Robert Forster of "Jackie Brown"), wants her to lighten up with regard to a physician, Emile Balan (Roger Rees of "The Prestige"), who wants to attend a conference in the U.S.  Warning signs come up that alert Kate Abbott (Milla Jovovich of "The Fifth Element") and she has second thoughts.  During the prologue, two American helicopter pilots are shot down over Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, and the villainous natives let one of the pilots live while they doused the other with gasoline and immolate him. Now, Bill Talbot is struggling to get Kate out of the picture, but the villains have his son, believed dead, in custody and are blackmailing him. Indeed, he is desperate enough that the villains hire a ruthless assassin, Nash (Pierce Brosnan of "Die Another Day") to blow up the Embassy staff, including Abbott, who is attending Bill's birthday party at a fashionable British restaurant. Ironically enough, the Embassy staff are going to be served pressed duck. Our heroine escapes by the skin of her teeth because nobody remembered to bring Bill's birthday present. She leaves the restaurant and enters a shop across the street about the same time that Nash triggers the bomb. Imagine Nash's surprise when he spots Abbott in the street looking battered and worse for the wear from the experience. He whips out an automatic pistol with a silencer attached to it and pursues her.

Naturally, since Kate is the protagonist and the protagonist must survive, Nash's accuracy with his weapon is compromised enough that she escapes.  Later, adhering to protocol, she encounters Bill at a rendezvous safe zone in a public park. Shocked at her presence, Bill pulls out an automatic pistol and tries to kill Kate. The two struggle over Bill’s weapon, and Bill winds up accidentally shooting himself in the stomach. Following all the classic tropes since "North by Northwest," Kate ends up with the pistol in her fist. Moreover, Bill staggers into public view, and sightseers snap photos and lens videos of the dumbstruck Kate several steps behind the mortally wounded Talbot with the pistol conspicuously held in her hand. Of course, she denies her guilt but then takes flight. Now, the video has gone viral, and Kate's superior, Sam Parker (Dylan McDermott of "In the Line of Fire"), is trying to reach her before British authorities with shoot-on-site orders can catch her. Indeed, the troubled U.S. Ambassador, Maureen Crane (Angela Bassett of “Waiting to Exhale”) contacts British security expert Paul Anderson (James D’Arcy) and grants him clearance to kill Abbott. The first half-hour goes by really rapidly despite its formulaic shenanigans, and McTeigue generates an air of urgency as Kate takes it on the lam and Nash resolves to liquidate her. Kate enjoys extraordinary luck eluding the authorities and Nash is the kind of assassin who likes to tie up as many loose ends as possible. Incredibly, she manages to impersonate a tourist and gets back to the United States in time to barely take down Nash. The finale atop a Big Apple skyscraper with Jovovich battling it out with Brosnan will have you on the edge of your seat holding your breath. Not only does "Survivor" live up to its generic title but it also is a terrific little thriller.