True Memoirs of an International Assassin (2016)


True Memoirs of an International Assassin is literally a white guy’s fantasy. Sam Larson (Kevin James) is an accountant by day, not a very good one by the looks of it, and an aspiring novelist by night, also not a very good one by the looks of it. With the help of his friend Amos (Ron Rifkin), who once did desk duty at Mossad, he’s working on a spy thriller. When an online publisher picks it up and takes some liberties with the marketing, Sam suddenly finds himself promoting what everyone assumes to be his own memoirs.

Before he can figure out how to talk his way out of this mess, he finds himself in a much more precarious situation. He’s kidnapped by some Venezuelan rebels and taken to that country where any number of people believe him to be an actual assassin and want his services. They all mistake him for the Ghost, the main character and super killer in his novel, but Sam can’t even stand up to his bullying coworker much less rebels, gangsters, and politicians. Initially he’s called upon by El Toro (Andy Garcia) to murder the president (Kim Coates) so that he and his fellow revolutionaries can stage a coup, but then Sam is intercepted by a Russian gangster (Andrew Howard) and a general (Yul Vazquez), all of whom also want his guns trained on the other parties.

Meanwhile, the CIA (Rob Riggle, Leonard Earl Howze) know he’s in Venezuela and that he’s being set up to murder the president, and nearly every other important player, but they’d rather just let things work themselves out and amuse themselves in the process. This basically describes every role Riggle plays, by the way. Sam soon finds out that his only friend is DEA agent Rosa (ass-kicking Zulay Henao), a bit of a lone shark trying to do good by her country and that of her parents.

The movie aspires to be a solid action comedy, and there are certainly elements of both. I can see why some might not like the back and forth between Sam and everyone else who wants to hire and/or kill him. It’s repetitive and predictable, like watching a multi-player ping pong match between amateurs. But I enjoy the fake outs and layers of deception, which force Sam to make some calculations about who he should be loyal to, or at least who will allow him the best chance of getting out alive. My favorite supporting character is Juan (a cool Maurice Compte who incidentally reminds me of a cool Martin Compston), El Toro’s lieutenant with whom Sam has a complex relationship.

A lot of his motivation comes from the fact that he’s a just a guy who longs for excitement and gets it the only way he knows how – by writing about it. The main joke is that he lives vicariously through his character. The editing jumps between his real life and the one in his imagination, especially in the first half of the movie. That gets distracting and tiresome pretty quickly. The initial disconnect is supposed to be funny, and it is mildly amusing, because most people aren’t going to suspect Kevin James as an international assassin. Mall cop, maybe. But as the situation escalates and fiction and reality become more entangled, the audience is asked to suspend our disbelief until we’re practically floating on air. Somewhere in the second act, the comedy wears out and the movie becomes nothing more than light action, lots of firefights with none of the consequences, at least not for our main heroes.

When Sam does take control of his life, however, the movie dives into a mucky post-modern minefield. He gets to live out the ending he wants, and I’m not going to root against a guy who desperately needs and gets some agency. But I’m also not terribly impressed that Sam Larsen played by Kevin James is the kind of guy who needs to feel empowered, especially when his getting a handle on things means gunning down shady Venezuelans and rescuing the hot girl, who until the end of the movie seems to have been on top of the situation. That this is a film about both living the stories we want to tell and giving voice to them, maybe let’s not go with the genial middle-aged white dude.

Released: 2016
Prod: Justin Begnaud, Raja Collins, Mark Fasano, Todd Garner
Dir: Jeff Wadlow
Writer: Jeff Morris, Jeff Wadlow
Cast: Kevin James, Zulay Henao, Andy Garcia, Maurice Compte, Kelen Coleman, Andrew Howard, Ron Rifkin, Rob Riggle, Leonard Earl Howze, Yul Vazquez, Kim Coates
Time: 98 min
Lang: English, some Spanish
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016