Review by Daniel Lima
After years of working as a writer for film and comics, Kevin Grevioux has taken on the mantle of director. King of Killers seems poised to be the start of an expansive new multimedia project, with a television prequel in the works, and both the film and series allegedly based on Grevioux’s graphic novel (for which the only evidence of its existence is press releases for the film and series). From all this activity, one can surmise that this is a concept that the man has plenty of passion for. Watching the film, however, it’s hard to see what exactly animates that passion.
Alain Moussi plays an elite assassin who, after his wife is killed while on a mission, retires to take care of his daughter. When she develops a life-threatening heart condition, he is pulled back into the life by a $10 million offer from the world’s greatest assassin. The target? The person who ordered the hit, and the protagonist will have to compete against some of the finest killers in the underworld if he wants that prize.
It’s a generic premise, but it has given works like John Wick and Accident Man fertile ground to create colorful characters, stage unique action set pieces, and craft a world that is idiosyncratic. Grevioux, the original creator of the Underworld franchise and the owner of an independent comic book company, might see ample opportunity to put a personal stamp on such well-worn territory. From the jump, however, it is clear that this film is missing that touch.
Visually, the film looks utterly indistinguishable from any number of indie action-thrillers. If one person is on screen, you get a medium shot with the person centered in frame; if multiple people, a wide to capture everyone as they stand or sit in one place for the duration of the scene. Occasionally, an ugly yellow or blue filter is thrown on. There are a couple comic-esque multi-panel split screens, fitting multiple inert images on screen at once. Most shots are held for only a few moments, leading to unintentionally hilarious scenes where the camera swaps between a half-dozen characters in a matter of seconds. That is the extent of the visual ingenuity on display.
A bad-looking movie is not uncommon in the direct-to-video realm, but a cursory glance at Grevioux’s comics work — particularly, the creator-owned work he has published himself — reveals dynamic, evocative images that demand and hold attention. While he only writes his comics, it is clear that he at least has an appreciation for the power of a single frame, what composition and blocking can do. If the shots in this film are 1:1 recreations of the alleged graphic novel it is based on, that would make the comic a particularly abhorrent exception to an otherwise handsome oeuvre.
The story itself is decidedly boilerplate, with the film taking an agonizingly long time to establish its world and the dramatic stakes to little actual effect. Much of this time is spent on simple exposition: characters helpfully explaining their relationships with one another, discussing other characters, or attempting to sell juvenile attempts at “tough guy” dialogue. The lack of a defined aesthetic and the breakneck editing lend these scenes an inessential air, as if they are mere padding before the action that is the nominal selling point kicks into gear. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen until fifty minutes into a ninety-minute movie.
The cast makes a valiant attempt to bring life to the characters, but their efforts are all for nought. Most of these actors have proven themselves in other works, but are forced to inhabit bland, personality-free archetypes that fail to give them a foundation to anchor their performance in. One could easily imagine Moussi playing a goofy, charming lead, but here he is forced to be the "Serious Hero," a role that doesn’t play to his strengths and is wholly uninteresting. The only exceptions are Frank Grillo, who is always effortlessly charming, and Grevioux himself, whose voice means he will stand out in anything he appears in.
All these problems could be forgiven if the action delivers. Sadly, that is not the case. To give credit where it's due, there does seem to be some thought put into the action design, with weapons getting thrown into the mix and the environment being used in clever ways. All that is completely undermined, however, by the ugly visual palette and the scattershot editing. Dark lighting that makes it difficult to see, cutting away from the action and breaking up its rhythm, excessive shaky cam, weird digital push-ins, removing frames to artificially give the impression of contact — every awful trope of bad action directing is showcased here. Some set pieces fare better than others, particularly with the established action stars, but even those are aggravating in how close they are to being something worth watching.
Ultimately, that is a good way to describe King of Killers as a whole. If this had an inkling of the personality, the visuals, or the perspective of Grevioux’s other work, this could have at least been a promising first attempt in the director’s chair. After enduring this, it’s hard not to come away with the impression that the man was more energized by the idea of a project like this than the possibilities it offered. Perhaps if the TV show or seemingly unreleased graphic novel ever see the light of day, they will have the spark that this lacks. If this is any indication of what’s to come, it might be wiser to prepare for disappointment.
King of Killers is set to release in theaters and on VOD September 1.