King of Killers, 2023.
Written and Directed by Kevin Grevioux.
Starring Frank Grillo, Alain Moussi, Kevin Grevioux, Marie Avgeropoulos, Shannon Kook, Georges St-Pierre, Amy Groening, Gianni Capaldi, Ryan Tarran, Zoe Worn, and Stephen Dorff.
Garan is a part of a group of international hitmen who are contracted to take out the most dangerous killer in the world, only to find out that they’re the ones being hunted.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, King of Killers wouldn’t exist.
Based on his comic book, writer/director Kevin Grevioux’s King of Killers offers gruesome, bone-crunching, stabby action resembling a setup of Mortal Kombat with international assassins meets gaming arena 1v1 deathmatches. There is a competitive billionaire, the titular King of Killers Drakos, as played by Frank Grillo with captivating arrogance, who has set up a game where individual hitmen (generally disgraced in one way or another from their former professions) step into his personal booby-trapped, multi-floor war zone putting their skills to the test, seeking to get the upper hand and kill him for a substantial, life-changing financial reward.
The protagonist of this tale is Alain Moussi’s Marcus Garan, a hitman searching for whoever murdered his wife, who could also use the cash prize to pay for his young daughter’s medical bills for her defective heart. However, Kevin Grevioux drastically overestimates how much detail and time should go into this motivating backstory, apparently under the impression that Alain Moussi is solid at conveying drama and emotion when he is not. Bluntly put, the leading performance is stiff and clunky, with Kevin Grevioux far too much emphasis on the story in the first act, especially for a movie where every spoken line of dialogue is grating.
Even the window into Marcus’ life is baffling, with scenes of him hilariously donning cheap-looking mustaches while taking out clients for his handler (Stephen Dorff.) That is nothing compared to the murder of his wife, which is puzzling until the end of the film, but even then, the explanation is unbelievable. Most viewers will go through the entire movie confused, thinking that she died from a stray bullet during a firefight at the expense of his assassination job, wondering why he is investigating her death in the first place. That’s one way of saying the storytelling here is amateurish.
Thankfully, once Kevin Grevioux introduces the assassination game and the other hitmen (also stepping in front of the camera playing one of them), he finds a comfortable groove jumping from fight scene to fight scene, typically with characters of different nationalities, weapons, and battle stances. Despite some aesthetically horrendous atmospheric lighting, the one-on-one battles generally deliver on brutality and choreography, with some memorably nasty kills. The experience still suffers whenever characters start talking, but it’s fair to say that he is a competent action director and is capable of making something worthwhile if he so chooses to work with a screenwriter or co-director (staging story and coaching actors is a crippling weakness for him so far.)
Unsurprisingly, King of Killers gets ahead of itself, assuming viewers will be down for a sequel. The problem is that the story being set up is far more generic than the fun premise here of assassins taking turns trying to kill the best for glory and money. There are short bursts of bloody thrills here, but they are stuck inside a legitimately awful narrative that often makes no sense. That should be a death blow for any future plans, but the ensuing violence here is an admittedly entertaining distraction.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com