The amusingly awful thriller Assassin’s Bullet lists Christian Slater and Donald Sutherland as its headliners, but its real star is Elika Portnoy, who shares a story credit on a screenplay written by Nancy L. Babine and Hans Feuersinger. This is the third feature Portnoy has conceived and starred in, and while her initiative and ability to find funding for these films is admirable, Assassin’s Bullet feels like a shameless, dismal vanity project. Set in Bulgaria, Portnoy’s native country, the film follows Slater, a former FBI agent turned embassy worker, as he gets pulled into investigating a vigilante who’s been killing suspected terrorists in the area.
The story makes little sense—multiple personalities are involved, as well as dark pasts and a possible La Femme Nikita-style human weapon. The narrative is mainly in place to let Portnoy indulge in a variety of theoretically juicy acting bits. She gets a selection of therapy scenes as a troubled woman struggling with a traumatic childhood and moments of memory loss, but she also portrays a sultry belly dancer who entrances Slater, as well as an impossibly bad-ass assassin who dresses like something out of The Matrix. No one seems able to recognize Portnoy when she puts on a new wig, so Slater flounders entertainingly as he tries to figure out what’s going on. Meanwhile, it’s instantly evident to the audience that the woman he’s courting, the woman he’s worked with, and the woman who’s running around shooting people are one and the same.
Slater and Sutherland (as the U.S. ambassador) put in the minimal effort required in their roles, while Timothy Spall donates slightly more energy as Slater’s friend and Portnoy’s shrink; Spall offers the film’s most unintentionally funny bit of on-the-nose symbolism when he mutters that “the fascinating thing about the female form is its supple nature, its elasticity, its alacrity—its malleability.” Directed by Isaac Florentine, who’s done solid work in the past on action flicks like Undisputed III: Redemption, Assassin’s Bullet is a visually garbled affair whose few fight and shoot-’em-up sequences are cartoonish and clumsy, with moments of slow motion thrown in to no particular end. Portnoy’s acting remains roundly flat and affectless, whether she’s seducing Slater or shooting evil Muslims extremists, but her bravado in creating this crazy role for herself deserves a salute, though certainly not applause.