Essay On The Life Of An Assassin

I’ll say this about the latest Netflix Original Comedy, “True Memoirs of an International Assassin”: It looks and feels like a real movie. Unlike so many Happy Madison ventures, including Netflix Originals “The Ridiculous Six” and “The Do-Over,” this flick has a director who considered visual composition and pacing, and someone actually wrote a screenplay. The script by Jeff Morris, which was on the notorious Black List of the best unproduced screenplays, is surprisingly plot-heavy, something also uncommon for other films starring Kevin James and Adam Sandler, which typically amount to little more than a series of jokes loosely strung together by an unbelievable plot. Ultimately, “True Memoirs of an International Assassin” isn’t entertaining enough to recommend, but it’s certainly not the torturous experience of recent James vehicles like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” or “Pixels,” and parts of it actually work.

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The star of “The King of Queens” (an admitted guilty pleasure in reruns for this writer) plays Sam Larson, a cubicle-tethered schlub who has few friends and a horrible boss. He imagines himself the lead of a book he’s writing in his spare time called Memoirs of an International Assassin. Getting advice from a bar mate and former soldier named Amos (Ron Rifkin) about the ins and outs of covert ops, Sam delivers an entertaining, action-packed adventure novel to his new publisher Kylie (Kelen Coleman), who promises “not to change a word.” She doesn’t. She just adds the word “True” to the front of the title, sending Sam’s real life spinning. Now, he’s appearing on talk shows and trying to defend a story of international espionage which he made up. Of course, it’s not long before he’s kidnapped and thrust into the middle of a high-danger situation in Venezuela.

The specific details of the international portion of Sam’s adventure are pretty clever in their complexity. Sam first meets El Toro (Andy Garcia), who wants a crime lord named Masovich (Andrew Howard) murdered. Masovich intercepts Sam and orders him to assassinate the President (Kim Coates), who then intercepts Sam and orders him to assassinate El Toro. It's the circle of espionage. Sam, who most people think is the international assassin known as “The Ghost,” gains a partner in a freedom fighter named Rosa Bolivar (Zulay Henao) and Rob Riggle and Leonard Earl Howze pop up as a couple of U.S. agents who almost watch Sam/Ghost’s current dilemma with skeptical joy. They take wagers as to whether or not he’s actually an assassin and eat popcorn while watching surveillance footage of him trying just to survive.

For the most part, “True Memoirs of an International Assassin” is just crowded enough to be an entertaining diversion. The problem is that Morris and director Jeff Wadlow go back to the same jokes way too many times—we see multiple scenes of Sam imagining action sequences that don’t really happen and there’s an odd habit in the final act to pepper the soundtrack with Spanish-language versions of American pop songs. The bigger problem is a distinct lack of actual laughs from those jokes, even the first time we hear them. I chuckled once or twice at Riggle & Howze, but it’s tempting to not even categorize the film as a comedy. It’s a melting pot of a diversion, too thin in any specific genre department to really register. It’s not action-packed enough, not funny enough, and the characters aren’t memorable enough.

Having said that, it’s never eye-rollingly unfunny, offensive or blatantly stupid. Perhaps this is a low bar to clear, but it’s a time-killer, something that could make a couple hours go by faster if you’re in need of something to speed up the clock. Movies should do more than just kill your time, and this one could have with smarter dialogue and actual characters, but there’s something to be said about a distraction from the international drama of this week, true or not.

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I confess I wasn’t wild about this phrase, “Someone else sent me.” The ghosts of fear immediately began to make their presence known. Truth be told, I found this sudden attack of fear very odd. In Mozambique, I’d lived through a civil war that lasted 16 years. I should have grown accustomed to fateful twists and turns between life and death. Above all, I should have had a very different first encounter with the country that had been such a force in my development as a writer. My greatest influences are Brazilian poets and novelists. My landing in the country of Jorge Amado was certainly worthy of a good story but not the one that was beginning to take shape.

While the man “sent” to pick me up guided me through a long walkway toward the parking lot, a movie began to play in my head. I was about to be kidnapped. I barely heard the words my kidnapper offered in way of an explanation: The regular driver for the organization that was hosting me had suddenly fallen ill and had asked my kidnapper, a friend of his, to dar um jeitinho, to make it work.

The condition of the driver’s vehicle served only to reconfirm the criminal nature of the events at hand. The car was falling apart, the body full of dents, the license plate tied to the car with a wire. With a friendly smile, the driver invited me to sit in the front seat:

“The ‘dead man’s seat,’ ” he quipped.

Sitting in front, my gaze fixed on the horizon, I finally admitted to myself that my daughter had been right. I was to become just one more figure in her statistical analysis. The driver sat down behind the wheel and spent a long time in search of something in the glove box. My eyes couldn’t escape a dense fog in which it was impossible to make out a thing. I refused to see my own end. I noticed that in the hand of my Brazilian host, there was a metal object pointed toward my chest. With the most impeccable manners, he posed the most terror-inducing of questions:

“Would you like a balinha?”

In Mozambique, bala can mean but one thing: a bullet. It seemed that I was going to die at the hands of the nicest murderer in the entire world. A criminal who worries about his victims’ final wishes and refers to the projectile he’s about to shoot in the diminutive, to make it clear he’s capable of affection. At this point, I was even overcome by a sort of fondness for the idea of my own death. When I opened my eyes, a tin of menthol cough drops awaited me in the driver’s outstretched hand.

“Well?” he asked again with a smile.

I let out a sigh of relief and did my best to contain myself, still as could be, all the way to the hotel. The city passed before my eyes, slowly and colorlessly.

In the safety of my room, I scoured my dictionaries, and there it was: bala. In Brazil, it can mean “lozenge,” “candy.” I took a deep breath. Then I called my daughter in Maputo to tell her I’d survived.

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