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Assassination Tango (September 18/02)

Given that Robert Duvall writes, directs and stars in Assassination Tango, it's probably safe to assume that the project was a labor of love for the legendary actor. But unlike his last directorial effort, The Apostle, Assassination Tango is a meandering, pointless and ultimately dull character study.

Duvall stars as an aging hitman named John, who's settled into a comfortable life with a middle-aged teacher (Kathy Baker) and her daughter. But when he's offered an incredibly amount of money to kill a prominent politician in Buenos Aires, John can't pass up the opportunity. The job's only supposed to take a few days, but ends up stretched out to several weeks due to an accident that leaves the target in hospital. So, with time to kill, John starts hitting the local tango clubs, where he discovers a beautiful dancer named Manuela (Duvall's real-life partner, Luciana Pedraza). She teaches him the dance, while he prepares to

Though Assassination Tango isn't a bad film by any means, it's certainly a big disappointment and a step backwards for Duvall the director. Like The Apostle, Assassination Tango doesn't feature much in the way of plot, but the real problem here is the lack of compelling characters. It doesn't help that Duvall gives one of his most low-key performances in years; aside from a brief sequence in which he loses his temper, the electrifying spark that tends to accompany Duvall's acting is almost completely absent here. He's not bad, of course, but he never becomes the center of attention or a character that we're willing to follow through a two-hour movie. Far, far worse is Pedraza in her film debut. She's a heck of a dancer, no doubt, but a terrible actress. She's got this flat delivery and the expression on her face rarely changes. It doesn't help that a good deal of the dialogue has seemingly been improvised, which leads to long sequences in which Duvall and Pedraza make meaningless small talk.

Even the most ardent Duvall fan will have a hard time sustaining interest in this odd misfire.

** out of ****

About the DVD: Along with an impressive widescreen transfer, MGM Home Entertainment brings Assassination Tango to DVD with a few extras. A commentary track with Duvall and Pedraza is the primary highlight, and it's clear that the two are very comfortable with each other. The track is about on a par with the film, so if you enjoyed the movie, you'll probably find this to be engaging (it is quite informative, to be fair). Also included is nine-minutes worth of deleted scenes and an alternate ending (both of which are accompanied by optional commentary), although the "alternate" ending is essentially just the same ending without credits. Finally, there's a trailer and photo gallery.

(c) David Nusair 2002