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The Assassin Review

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★★★★★

Purists no doubt turn their noses up at John Badham's slick Americanisation of Luc Besson's chic thriller Nikita, which, from the blaring visuals of its violent prologue to the pendulous wrap-up, is nothing more than an identikit clone.

For the uninitiated, however, this is fast, silly, outrageously indulgent fun of the highest order, and with none of the Gallic original's heavy arthouse calories. When we first spy Bridget Fonda's Maggie, she's a grungy drugged-out street hooligan deliberately blasting a cop into the ether. After the fastest trip to death row in American history, Maggie gets strapped into the execution chair, only to wake up in a clinical white room with some strange man named Bob (a very low-key Byrne) offering her a choice between training in a top-secret assassin factory for life as an elite government hitwoman or that cemetery plot in Row 9.

Even with her cop-killing credentials, however, Maggie comes close to flunking out of killer training school, until unctuous etiquette guru Amanda (Bancroft) teaches her how to eat with a fork and wear lipstick. Fonda's transformation from sullen hoodlum with bad teeth to big-haired beach babe is a tad jarring, and it's difficult to swallow her remodelled pert and perky persona as a spike-heeled killing machine terminating unnamed VIPs for an anonymous shadowy employer.

But with whole scenes and dialogue lifted almost verbatim, Badham isn't concerned here with subtleties, instead focusing on some deliriously OTT set pieces. Possessing one of those beguilingly blank faces that registers every shift in emotion, Fonda is a fun actress to watch, especially as she plies her trade with some whopping high-tech weaponry and the same compulsive glee previously reserved for the male action star.

And if the nihilistic punk spirit that made Besson's original such a cult fave is missing, so are the arty, existential pretensions, resulting in a lean slice of absurdly enjoyable action filmmaking.