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Assassination Tango

Starring Robert Duvall
Written and Directed by Robert Duvall

IN SHORT: Love of dance is one thing. Insufficient story is a whole 'nother thing. [Rated R for language and some violence. 114 minutes]

Robert Duvall's second outing as a director drives home the importance of the establishing shot better than any lecture we ever sat through in film school. As Assassination Tango begins, we see a high overhead shot of a coastal beach. The shot lasts only long enough to make us aware we're at a beach near a city of some kind. Then Duvall cuts to the interior of a club called Frankie's, where old people are dancing. Inside the club is John J (Duvall), an old guy with a ponytail. He is accompanied by Jenny (Katherine Micheaux Miller) a blonde kidlet who doesn't want to dance, either with him or with the other, appropriately aged boys in the club, all being watched over by their parents or, as we're assuming here, grandparents.

We're not. Jenny is the daughter of John's lover, Maggy (Kathy Baker). He owns the hair salon where she works -- hinted at in the dialog. At minimum he gets his nails done there -- and though the relationship seems a committed one, neither wears a ring. Nor does Maggy ask where he man has been when he climbs into bed in the middle of the night.

A city by the sea. Old people dancing. It happens so fast that we thought we were watching Miami Beach. No, we're at Coney Island in New York's borough of Brooklyn. Duvall has decided that all his audience will know about his story is what they see on the screen so, while we were trying to figure out why the location shifted from Florida to New York we may have missed something about character relationships that could prove to be important to the overall tale. We don't think we did but needless confusion is, well, needless.

Lest you think that John J is a nice old retired guy, across Brooklyn somewhere is another club, called Metropolis. John mozies on over to the club and , thanks to a way too convenient purse snatching, blows away some Russian in front of the club. He then chases the thief and makes his getaway -- of course it's a set up, part of his employment by Frankie (Frankie Gio) to remove various enemies of the mob. We know the hit isn't just a simple case of eliminating the competition with extreme prejudice because Frankie later tells John that he has "another job" for him; this one a loan out to a gangster in Argentina to snuff a prominent military man.

Tony Manes (Ruben Blades) is John's contact down south. John is told that the gig will take about three days start to finish. When the General falls off his horse, three days becomes three weeks and John J's well laid plans go down the crapper. His path will cross that of a lovely young lady practicing the Tango. He is immediately enthralled not only Manuela's (Luciana Pedraza) beauty but by the precision and beauty of the dance. The relationship that develops over the next three weeks will support the guts of Assassination Tango.

But we didn't have to read the press notes to walk away with the knowledge that Mr. Duvall is a fan of the dace of the title. Falling far short on basics like character background and development, his film comes across more as a feature determined to promote the dance as something akin to visual poetry, rather than use it as the basis for the stories that are linked by it. A little character development would be nice. We get barely enough information about the characters to keep our attention up but far too little to make us care about much that happens on the big screen.

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


Rent it.

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