Assassination Tango

on March 28, 2003 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
Actor Robert Duvall's latest directorial outing is less substantial and relevant than his other undistinguished films, such as "Angelo, My Love," about the travails of a Gypsy community, and "The Apostle," about a troubled fire-and-brimstone preacher. Those were flat, one-dimensional films that betrayed their potentially interesting subject matter, but at least they had a point. “Assassination Tango” has the added burden of irrelevancy, since, essentially, it's not about anything at all.

Channelling Robert De Niro on a bad acting day, Duvall portrays John J., an elderly, pony-tailed, loving boyfriend, father figure and dance aficionado, who also moonlights as a professional hit man. When he's sent off to Buenos Aires to kill a general, and the hit is delayed, he stumbles across the vivacious tango teacher Manuela (Luciana Pedraza) and falls in love with the Argentinean dance. "Assassination Tango" is Duvall's love letter to the tango, a real life passion of his, but it begs the question of why he felt the need to graft a tired hit man plot onto the tale. He has no feel for the crime material and his attempted creation of the quirky John. J., supposedly a master killer, falls apart quickly as he shows his character taking easy offense to slights and engaging in angry outbursts. By nature, effective hit men are discreet and unobtrusive. And the relationship between John J. and Manuela is labored and inconclusive, in a dull way, and leaves Pedraza, who's making her film debut, hanging. The Argentinean seems talented but is crippled by having to act in English, which renders her performance stilted and unconvincing. The rest of the cast, including reliable actors Ruben Blades as John's Argentinean contact and Kathy Baker as John's lover, are left with nothing to do. In a more consequential movie, that would matter more than it does here. Starring Robert Duvall, Luciana Pedraza, Kathy Baker and Ruben Blades. Directed and written by Robert Duvall. Produced by Robert Duvall and Rob Carliner. A United Artists release. Drama. English- and Spanish-language; subtitled. Rated R for language and some violence. Running time: 114 min. Opens Fall.

Tags: Robert Duvall, Luciana Pedraza, Kathy Baker, Ruben Blades, Robert Duvall. Produced by Robert Duvall and Rob Carliner. A United Artists release. Drama

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