Well well well.
We meet again, Mr. James.
True Memoirs of an International Assassin is a piffle. A cheap action comedy. Something to watch on Netflix via drunken selection or algorithmically selected autoplay. It offers Kevin James in a not-too-annoying role, mercifully going aw-shucks a whole lot rather than getting horse-kicked, or pratfalling into oblivion. It’s damnable with faint praise. It’s too cheap to be thrilling, and too earnest to be all that offensive. Mired in clichés. Mostly flat. A weak Spy. Only Kevin James diehards need apply. So there you go.
We done here?
Ugh. Fine. But be warned, there’s really not a whole hell of a lot to talk about here.
James is your average, ordinary, everyday cubicle guy. He’s Sam Larson (currently spelled “Same Larson” on IMDB if that’s any indication of how much you should care), a put-upon and schlubby writer, aspiring to break out with a spy novel in the vein of James Bond or Remo Williams, but with way more stabbings and explosions. He drafts a paean to ‘80s boy action, at probably five pages a chapter. Sam’s novel, “Memoirs of an International Assassin,” gets picked up by a web distributor and takes on a life of its own. The book, with an added “True” at the front, goes viral as a work of nonfiction. Whoops.
Sam flips out in a Katie Couric interview (really her, in a cameo), runs out of Yahoo!’s offices (really product placement), and is immediately kidnapped by what appears to be a Venezuelan cartel (really bad actors in olive-green clothes). Sam plays the field, getting close to contras and drug cartels and CIA agents, playing every side. James stumbles and quivers through scenes, only to become the kind of action hero he wrote about.
Events in Sam’s escapades in South America vaguely resemble the plot of Sam’s book. A cheap, digital helicopter crash fantasy becomes a cheap, digital reality. His research on knives and guns and quippy one-liners are applied slowly but surely, as Sam encounters countless baddies. You probably could have guessed that. The motivations are often not to be bothered with. This is Hitchcock’s basic mistaken man plot, made frugally and released to fill Netflix’s growing monthly crop of “original” programming. (Would you be surprised to know that this isn’t a Happy Madison production? Sandler, and his style of piss and fart jokes, aren’t really here. So lowly humor with blood and bullets offers a somewhat fresh spin, if that’s anything.)
What we get, by the end of the movie, is nothing more than a series of familiar moments, unfunny scenes, and pixelated action that amounts to nothing more than a mild distraction.
What might have been James’ bid for action comedies, or his own style sans the Sand-man, is a mediocrity at the very best. Not to be a purist, but if you’re going to sell James as a blue-collar hero, a man with stakes to the left of him and killers on the right, don’t do it on Netflix. Give James scale, or clever lines, or something more memorable than a loose sketch. A film without James screaming endlessly, or suicide and death as sources of abrupt dark comedy, or the kind of stereotypical villainy that was passé over 20 years ago. Keep in mind that the nature of a spoof may be an out for all this, but a) James babbling in fear at the sight of a gun is just so worst-of Jerry Lewis, and b) the film often C4’s jokes with CG blood and hellfire and stand-off nonsense.
What we get is something that looks and feels inexpensive and rushed. As mentioned before, the digital sheen feels very first-time Adobe After Effects. Not crisp, just quick and functional. Even the font choice for visual display – Times New Roman – is the first font in Word. That is to say that everything in the movie seems to have been chosen in haste, with James and others shrugging and saying, “this is fine.”
With Zookeeper, Blart, and Here Comes the Boom on his filmography, maybe James wanted out, to do something with violence, and stunts, and something resembling a script instead of a concept. But True Memoirs can’t get out of its positioning, its cheapness, and its failure to liven up either the action or comedy. And James, for all his efforts, comes across less like a brash leading man, and more a cypher for moments to casually come together in something resembling a film. And a pretty crappy one at that.
Still interested in an action comedy? Mistaken identity stuff? Espionage? Here’s a list of like-minded, wrong-place-wrong-time stories currently on Netflix that are better than True Memoirs of an International Assassin:
- Spies Like Us, a 1985 John Landis comedy about two CIA dweebs (Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase) who get caught up in international intrigue and shenanigans ensue. C
- Blue Streak, Martin Lawrence’s 1999 comedy about a crook pretending to be a cop who learns the value of being a cop. C+
- Beasts of No Nation. Cary Fukunaga’s artful meditation on war and uprising. B+
- Big Trouble in Little China. Kurt Russell is just a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bunk mysticism and great effects and dorky comedy ensues. A-
- Johnny English. Rowan Atkinson is the spy who nobody wanted and everybody laughs at. C+
- While You Were Sleeping. Cute mistaken identity rom-com. B
- Spy Kids. Robert Rodriguez plays with spy tropes by making them, get this, kids. Playful. B-
- Hot Fuzz. Kicks ass. Terrifically funny. Really witty. A new classic. A
- Turner & Hooch. Tom Hanks and a dog in a buddy cop picture. What do you want from me? A
Get the idea? No, this isn’t a review anymore, but an excuse to get out of one. But the point stands. Find something else on Netflix.