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The Assignment

Starring Aidan Quinn, Donald Sutherland and Ben Kingsley
Screenplay by Dan Gordon and Sabi H. Shabtai
Directed by Christian Duguay

IN SHORT: Almost a compelling action/thriller. Almost.

It's a great concept -- take a real life event, to which there is no conclusive ending and make one up. It happened a couple of weeks back with with the release of The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca, in which the unsolved murder of a famous Spanish poet was "solved." This week, the focus is terrorism by way of the old axiom about everybody having an exact double somewhere on this planet.

There really was a terrorist code-named "The Jackal" and he really was the object of a worldwide manhunt. This killer had the protection of the Russians and their states in the third world (time setting is the Cold War, from the 1970s on up) and took pleasure in blowing up innocent civilians and rubbing his extraordinary ability to disguise and disappear in the faces of the CIA (and international police) agents trying to track him down.

That master of disguise bit sets up the fanatical pursuit of the Jackal by CIA agent Jack Shaw, aka Henry Fields, aka Donald Sutherland which brings us to the subject of The Assignment, a US Navy Lieutenant of Cuban descent named Annibal Ramirez (Aidan Quinn) who just happens to have the same face as the sought after killer. It ain't the CIA that catches on, it's the Israeli Secret Service in the persona of the singularly named Amos (Ben Kingsley) who "capture" Ramirez and hold him as the terrorist.

After that it's a simple matter of convincing the reluctant officer to impersonate the bad guy; training him to act like the bad guy and then setting him loose. The Assignment is a simple story and a great chance for Quinn to play dual roles. It also takes it's own sweet time to get to the action sequences -- which rock -- which is why it'll open and close before you hear about it.

Once again Aidan Quinn reaches out for the brass ring and once again he misses. It's the pacing that kills his chances; after seeing a child victim of the Jackal, his character refuses to be manipulated into taking on the impersonation. Then, all of a sudden, he's in training and we don't know what changed. By the time the flick turns into a high powered action vehicle, there isn't enough of a connection to the audience to have us really kick out the jams. Yes, Quinn's dual role playing got the audience I sat with reacting in the proper way by the film's climax, but then everyone shuffled out silently. No cheer for the hero. In this case, an "ah" of satisfaction would have done fine. Didn't happen.

Director Christian Duguay, who was responsible for the abominable Screamers has learned to put together action sequences but needs to be a bit more liberal with the editing blade to get to 'em.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Assignment, he would have paid...


Almost a great action/thriller ain't good enough.

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