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Just bIew up a hoteI. How the hell do you think I am?


Point of No Return
aka The Assassin


I’m not against remakes per se, but there needs to be an intention to do something distinctive with them, be that a reinterpretation or different stylistic (directorial) vision. The latter most often applies to the action genre, in which terms, remaking a Luc Besson movie is a hiding to nothing. Point of No Return is worse than redundant, because it doesn’t even make the grade of serviceable; No visible energy has gone into making it its own thing; it’s the epitome of perfunctory, workmanlike, disengaged.

There’s no shortage of US remakes of movies by the original director (off the top of my head, Just Visiting, The Vanishing, Nightwatch and Funny Games), which is an even greater waste, in my estimation. Rarely, such a move might be legitimate (Michael Mann and LA Takedown/ Heat), but even with the passage of time (Hitchcock and The Man Who Knew Too Much), there’s a distinct danger of producing a hollow shell.  It seems that a directing deal was discussed with Besson in Point of No Return’s case, although not agreed; it’s thus probably no coincidence that his next movie (Léon) should have been his first English-language excursion.

Besson’s movies might be boasted as boosting strong female roles, even if those strong female roles have a strong disposition towards the traditionally male preserve of gun violence, but his chequered personal life suggests the more traditional plays and predilections of the movie industry, Hollywood or otherwise. He began a relationship with Maïwenn Le Besco when she was fifteen, and she later suggested the unsettling undertones of the relationship in Léon (where Natalie Portman’s Mathilda is twelve) were inspired by her and Besson (he’d later marry Milla Jovovich, she in her early twenties, he in his late thirties). More recently, several rape allegations were dropped, citing lack of evidence, but there’s an inescapably cumulative reputation scrawled across his wiki page by this point.

The original Nikita’s title role was inhabited by the formidable Anne Parillaud (who was also married to Besson at one point). Here, we have the decidedly more waif-like Bridget Fonda, whose time out of the Hollywood limelight (it seems linked to a traffic accident) has recently received rather unflattering tabloid attention. Fonda was never in the first rank of Hollywood starlets – so not unlike Badham in terms of Hollywood directors – but she’d been a highlight of several movies (Scandal, The Godfather Part III) and reliably called upon as a romantic interest. Plus, she’d just scored a hit as the female protagonist in the psycho-stalker subgenre that had been bubbling along since Fatal Attraction (in Single White Female, even if Jennifer Jason Leigh steals the movie). It seems Julia Roberts turned Point of No Return down (I can’t see her fitting), and Halle Berry was turned down (she’d have needed a better director than Badham to make the best of the opportunity). 

Fonda’s fine as Maggie, but you don’t really believe any of it; she isn’t the feral druggie killer, the way Parillaud is, so there’s very little sense of her mountain to climb in training as a sophisticated assassin. It doesn’t help any that the screenplay is slavishly beholden to the original, since there are unflattering comparisons in scene, performance and staging at every turn. The process by which Maggie goes from wayward scruff to presentable lady killer feels like a fait accompli, and aside from murdering someone, although that is probably the key, there’s never an obvious reason for her being selected. There’s also little chemistry with Gabriel Byrne (her handler Bob, who nurses feelings for her). Anne Bancroft’s Amanda gives Maggie training in etiquette (“I never did mind about the little things”), but there’s no chance for any connection to develop, such that when she goes to her for advice on getting out, the response of the institutionalised operative is “it’s a possibility that never entered my mind”.

This whole aspect is decidedly soft pedalled, although in fairness, it’s treated similarly in the original. There’s an element of the conditioned assassin/ trauma-based mind control in picking a junkie, but there’s no outright brainwashing after the death/ rebirth ritual (her execution is faked, and she cries “Mommy!”); Maggie even enjoys some larky computer talk in which she finds out how to use a mouse. Persuasion comes through ultimatums (get with the programme in six months, or that’s it).

While there are scenes where icy killer Maggie does cool assassin shit – having to improvise after the reveal of the blocked escape route at the restaurant hit; completing the New Orleans one while chatting to Dermot Mulroney – they’re no more impressive than her early taking out of her Kung Fu instructor while disadvantaged by a gunshot wound. Indeed, as these things go, junkie tomboy Bridget is much more believable than her audition for Spencer, exiting the facility with Princess Di hair, or running around with a very big gun in her stick-insect arms.

Indeed, without the Besson touch, the conceit is exposed as rather threadbare and makeshift. In that sense, if the makers don’t want you to think Maggie being trained to do cool killer shit at the behest of a corrupt government institution IS cool – because she wants to get out pretty much from the moment she gets out of the facility – it’s a success, but there’s so little sense of trajectory, any takeaway seems almost arbitrary. Amanda is harsh but fair. Bob is a big softy deep down who will let her go live her life. Miguel Ferrer is a bastard, but he only has about two scenes. We have little inkling of the vital reasons the agency has for killing people, other than the usual nuke-lie one (“Go to your computer and bring up your nuclear programme”). Of course, we’re never supposed to be on these agencies’ side in movies now, unless it’s having the good egg sorting out the bad barrel or going rogue.

Badham has his virtues, mostly by way of the action-comedy route, but he’s far from any kind of uber-stylist. He’s no Besson, basically, which means he fundamentally fails here, where making more out of a very rudimentary template is everything. Besson made Nikita fluid and precise, with a complementary muscular, propulsive score from Éric Serra. Badham makes the proceedings perfunctory, often choppy; he has no sense of staging an action set piece as a complete unit unto itself, so you’re never carried away in the moment. On the comedy front, the “I was talking to the duck!” joke is solid, but that’s about it.

The one section where the picture shifts up a gear and instils genuine tension is the arrival of Harvey Keitel’s Victor the Cleaner (Jean Reno in the original, and of course, Harvey would then play a more personable version as Mr Wolf in Pulp Fiction and a truly deplorable version of the same in some ads for Direct Line). He’s great here, a single-minded, impassive machine, using his limited stature to turn Victor into an unstoppable tank (a contrast to the towering Reno). Badham retains the queasy beats (“She’s not dead”), and the moment is lost as soon as Maggie and Victor are back in the car, but it’s a hint towards an altogether more engaged movie.

Mulroney’s fine as the love interest, although his hair and beard make him distractingly the spit of Oddbod Jr in Carry On Screaming. He’s more effective when paired with Byrne, though, taking jealous swipes at each other over dinner, than making nice with Bridget; as far as the “sexy” seduction scene goes, in which she invites JP to eat ravioli from her mouth, all I can say is Yeesh! Attempts at individuality (a thing for Nina Simone records) fail to mesh, because there’s no overall vision for the picture. This was pretty much the point where Badham’s cinema career capsized, with movies that weren’t proving cost effective for their returns (this, Another Stakeout, Drop Zone) or were outright bombs (Nick of Time). Fonda wouldn’t get another lead like this again either.

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