This was called The Assassin in Britain, though a more fitting title would be Remake of No Point. I hadn’t seen this since it originally came out, and it was a quite deliberate choice to watch it first for this article, hoping to escape the sense of deja-vu. Unfortunately, I couldn’t: its strengths are exactly those of Besson’s original, while the weaknesses are largely its own.
I can see the purpose of remakes, be they of old movies or foreign ones, when you bring something new to the table. However, it’s entirely understandable that Luc Besson passed on directing the American version, pointing out that he’d already made the movie he wanted. For Venice, read New Orleans. For Nikita, read Nina. For Jeanne Moreau, read Anne Bancroft. About the most significant difference in the storyline is that Fonda listens to Nina Simone.
Balancing the cast off, most are fractionally less effective than their French counterparts, although not so much that you’d notice. There are two exceptions: Dermot Mulroney fails miserably as Maggie’s boyfriend, J.P, to the point where I would have run screaming out the door, and that was after less than two hours in his company. Their relationship fails to convince, and since Badham places it close to the centre of the film, it’s a major flaw.
On the other hand, Harvey Keitel comes perilously close to stealing the whole show as Victor the Cleaner. Jean Reno was good in the original, yet Keitel brings a whole new dimension of menace, and clearly inspired Tarantino for Pulp Fiction. They missed the chance for a spin-off of genuine inventiveness there.
But what little originality actually is brought to the film, largely doesn’t work, in particular a sappy romantic montage between Maggie and J.P. As a director, Badham does a good job with the action sequences – you’d expect nothing less given his track record in the likes of War Games – even when all he’s really doing, is recreating scenes such as the kitchen shoot-out (watch those desserts fly!). There does seem to be rather more Fonda underwear footage too… :-)
Relocating everything to the States is not such a bad thing. While I don’t know about the French government, a school for psychotic murderers is by no means beyond the bounds of possibility – the infamous School of the Americas does much the same for Latin American death squads. And, taken on its own, this is not a bad film. But if you have ever seen the French original, then the American remake becomes entirely superfluous and, as mentioned above, it feels more like you’re watching an English dub, albeit a credibly well-voiced one.
A remake was supposed to be necessary because American audiences wouldn’t watch a subtitled film, but when the box-office spoke, Point took only $30m. The original was a French take on a mostly-American genre, but something is definitely missing when it comes home. Perhaps Badham should have slept with Fonda during production, as Besson did with Parillaud.
Dir: John Badham
Stars: Bridget Fonda, Gabriel Byrne, Dermot Mulroney, Anne Bancroft