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'Killing Time' Takes Aim at Hit-Man Genre


With Eastwoodian effectiveness, the Hit Woman With No Name struts into and over the bad guys in Bharat Nalluri's "Killing Time," mowing 'em down, blowing 'em up and making them share her pain, even if she doesn't remember it. She has no history, so we have the luxury of projecting. Picture a female grim reaper in group therapy with Austin Powers and Dr. Laura.

Or, consider how essential death is to the movies--like popcorn to the theaters, like hot dog to the roll--and consider Kendra Torgan's lethal seductress the chef de cuisine with no name. Why shouldn't she who prepares the main course be exalted to the level of artiste?

The number of hit men/women in the movies seems to be rivaling the number of smokers on screen as the least representative example of the American public, although this is a British movie. And besides, the Assassin is Italian (she listens to English-language tapes while trying to shoot a pomegranate off a victim's head). But why shouldn't we be made to look for provocative questions while being spoon-fed inanity? Isn't that what separates us from the beasts, finding meaning where there isn't any?

There's a recurring anecdote in this blood-soaked suspense yarn about how Burmese women had to walk behind their men until 1945, when they got to walk in front and check for land mines. If the intention is to cast the beautiful and quite lethal Assassin as a feminist ideal, it's not clear this is quite what Betty Friedan had in mind. But the Assassin certainly controls her own destiny and that of the rest of the characters, too.

The film starts promisingly. The evil Jacob Reilly (Nigel Leach), speaking to a soon-to-be-dead victim of his lust for bloodshed, catalogs the sexual peculiarities of his literary heroes--Andre Gide, Joyce, Dostoevsky, Byron, T.E. Lawrence--and compares them with his own erotic peculiarities (think of Professor Moriarty as imagined by the Marquis de Sade). His argument in defense of himself isn't quite on the order of Nietzschean Ubermensch entitlement, but rather that the depravities he enjoys automatically rank him with his idols. Either way, he's the kind of guy you'd like to spend some (screen) time with.

Instead, we find ourselves among a hapless gang of working-class Cockney mobsters, whose as-yet-unexplained assignment is to get the Assassin as soon as she gets her target, which is Reilly. It's like watching RuPaul slug it out with the Seven Dwarfs. She walks through them the way she walks through Reilly's headquarters, like an avenging Amazon angel wielding a harp full of bullets

So no real tension, just a lot of gauzy, arch poses by Torgan (the once and present model gets the coveted "and introducing" line in the opening credits), who is as photogenic a hired killer as has ever committed mass murder. Director Nalluri, unwisely, tries to operate on multiple levels of mood, shifting sensibility as he cuts from the two detectives (Craig Fairbrass and Peter Harding) investigating the slaughter at Reilly's, to the rapidly diminishing gang of hoods, to the Assassin herself, all Bond girl-style light and vapors and accented by the suggestion that she responds to killing the same way Reilly does.

Tawdry? Of course. Also, hilarious, but Nalluri's embrace of camp is only halfhearted, so the film only half works. When the Assassin (the press notes for the film say her name is Maria, but we never hear it) wields two guns, she's John Woo's Chow Yun-Fat; when she dresses in black, she's Mrs. Peel. When she shoots another hood, she's your pal, because the cast is only so large and eventually, you pray, she's going to get to the end of the line.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: Nudity, vulgarity and violence make this a grown-up movie.

'Killing Time'

Craig Fairbrass: Bryant

Kendra Torgan: Assassin

Peter Harding: Madison

Neil Armstrong: John

Ian McLaughlin: George

Stephen D. Thirkeld: Charlie

Rick Warden: Smithy

Nigel Leach: Jacob Reilly

Phil Dixon: Frank

Avalanche Releasing presents a film by Bharat Nalluri. Director Bharat Nalluri. Screenplay Neil Marshall, Fleur Costello, Caspar Berry. Producer Richard Johns. Executive producer Paul Brooks. Associate producer Alan Martin. Photography Sam McCurdy. Production designer Ronald Gow. Editor Neil Marshall. Original music Christopher Slaski. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.

* Exclusively at the Mann Westwood, 1050 Gayley, Westwood, (310) 248-MANN, #055.

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