“Two rival teams of assassins. One killer day at the office.”
Directed by Fouad Mikati
Starring Joe Anderson, Odette Yustman and Rob Corddry
but seriously it’s the smaller roles that have the gold: Ellen Barkin, Ving Rhames… and Jeffrey Tambor basically playing the same role he played in Muppets from Space, but with more shooting
A nervous young man is recruited by the Factory, a top secret US black ops division consisting of two teams and a section head, watched over by ‘Corporate’. Each member of the Factory has a code name taken from the Major Arcana of the Tarot.
Omega Team is headed by Emperor (Bob Odenkirk) and consists of Chariot (Corddry), High Priestess (Maggie Q), Judgement (Rhames) and the newcomer, Fool (Anderson). Alpha Team is led by Empress (Barkin), whose cohorts are Hierophant (Emilie de Ravin), Tower (Brandon T Jackson), Magician (Adam Scott) and Temperance (Yustman). It is established in scenes of ‘Corporate’ monitoring them, that they and the section head, Devil (Tambor) are all psychopaths, and that the rivalry between the teams is all that keeps them in some kind of check.
When the Devil is murdered, it activates Operation Endgame, a wildfire protocol. When the assassins split into pairs – one Alpha, one Omega – to search for the elusive Hermit (Zack Galafianakis), the one man who might know the way out, the Alpha Team start picking off Omega in a bloody fight for survival, but is everything as it seems?
What’s wrong with it?
The first of two principle jokes in this comedy action thriller is that every one of the characters is an unrepentant, but quirky psychopath – Chariot swears a lot, Hierophant is a bubbly blond, Judgement likes to use phrases which include his codename – which means that once the joke runs out of steam (round about when Hierophant hits Judgement in the head with a table leg with nails in it), we’re left with a group of characters and no specific reason to give a shit which, if any, of them live or die. Ultimately, we seem to be supposed to root for Fool and Temperance because they’re a) hot and b) high-functioning, and it’s not enough.
The second joke is that they are in an office and all of their weapons are checked at the door, so they have to murder each other with office equipment. Well, I’m certainly never going to look at my staple remover in the same way again.
It also takes a relatively strong idea and some decent action, and then fumbles its tone and dialogue something awful, in particular in a scene where the Hermit, out of nowhere, starts trying to seduce/rape/what the hell ever a battered Temperance until she shoots him in the crotch with her lipstick gun. It’s a scene that takes a break from the black comedy of the rest of the film and just leaps right over the event horizon of bad taste. I have a feeling it may have been crowbarred in to capitalise on Galafianakis’ then-recent success in 2009’s The Hangover (note his prominence on the poster compared to the notional leads).
What’s right with it?
The film is slick enough to realise that if its violence gets too brutal and gratuitous then it loses its ability to be a comedy, so many of the actual kills are cut into by Corporate’s observers wincing in horror, which is actually quite effective. (This is in fact why the scene mentioned above is so damned jarring.)
It’s also a really good cast. Look at those names, and I can pretty much guarantee that if you don’t know the actors by name, you’d know them to look at. They’re not A-list, but they’re solid B-, or at least prime C-listers in a D-list movie.
How bad is it really?
It’s kind of bumbling fun… apart, and you may spot a theme here, from that one scene that kind of made me sorry I’d watched the film in the first place.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Magician ties to kill Chariot with a pair of scissors and a fight ensues, in which Chariot’s every leaping dodge leaves him crashing painfully onto the floor. It’s endearingly awkward and probably pretty much how that kind of move would go.
What’s up with…?
- The Factory? Just… as a whole, how does an organisation that is made up of hate-filled psychopaths function for even a day?
- Temperance’s change of heart? If she’s going to be swayed by sentiment, how did she ever get recruited as a honey trap?
- Zack Galafianakis? That scene and… well, in general.
- The scheme? The ultimate twist is that the head of Corporate and the Devil hired Fool to take evidence of all of the Factory’s atrocities to the newly inaugurated Barack Obama and force him to clean house on the intelligence community, ordering Alpha Team to take out Omega as cover… but they’re the section head of the Factory and the head of its oversight group; surely there were easier ways!
Production values – The effects, mostly limited to some screen graphics and blood splatter, are modest, budget conscious and effective. 5
Dialogue and performances – Apart from that one scene, the dialogue is workmanlike psycho-banter delivered by talented actors, but the one exception is so glaring, so stilted, and so horrible, that it offsets anything good in this category. 17
Plot and execution – The plot makes sense pretty much up until the point where they try to make sense of it, so at least there is irony. 14
Randomness – The only really random parts are the quality of the cast – were they paying way over the odds? did they have pictures? – and the horrible, jarring rape threat scene, which again scores extra. 16
Waste of potential – It was never going to be great, but a solid gory action comedy is spoiled by the unnecessary unpleasantness. 14