Despite its apparent adherence to the buddy-movie genre as reinvented withexistential assassins in “Pulp Fiction,” Craig Singer’s sophomore outing only makes sense as a noir love story, with Michael Rapaport in the unlikely role of femme fatale. The relationship between elegant English hit man Ronnie (Gary Stretch) and his dese-dem-dose protege August (Rapaport), though surrounded by all the quasi-absurdist affects of grand passion, never convinces. Overwrought styling can’t substitute for chemistry, and prospects for this souped-up “Butch Cassidy”-wannabe don’t look bright beyond homevid and cable.
A seminal first meeting takes place in a darkened movie theater when August tries to rob Ronnie at knifepoint only to be stopped by a gun to his jugular and some friendly professional advice. After August whacks the wrong man, Ronnie tries to get him off the hook, against the advice of everyone (including wife Robin Givens).
On top of this, Ronnie takes on some politically hairy hits for a crime boss (Deborah Harry, whose voice we hear long before she makes a surprising final appearance) that land him smack dab in the middle of a war between her and a rival boss (Seymour Cassel). Soon assassins are crossing paths all over Manhattan, particularly a hopped-up brother-and-sister act billed as Donnie and Marie (Ally Sheedy and Ralph Macchio).
Script is peppered with snappy one-liners but they never achieve natural flow, while a voice-over’40s-style interior monologue belabors the irony. Pic’s stellar stable of character actors seldom cohabit the same frame: During a taxi hit, Lainie Kazan plays her nasty motor-mouth yenta for all its worth in the back seat while Ally Sheedy snaps gum and looks vapidly bloodthirsty in the front.
However, lead Stretch fails to exude as much menace and sexual obsession as the kitten he pets after blowing away a senator.
Pic is continually goosed up with drop-frame, stop-and-start or blur-motion trickery that strain to enhance every moment. Pic’s action set pieces, though well-staged, also try too hard (e.g. the drug deal in the warehouse full of live-chickens).
Tech credits are accomplished, John Sosenko’s lensing achieving a measure of high-tech flash without losing the physical textures of New York locales.