Wait – an original Netflix comedy that doesn’t star Adam Sandler? It’s real! True Memoirs Of An International Assassin only mines from Sandler’s comedian crew for lead actor Kevin James, with no cameos in sight. I mean, you try pitching a movie as “Spy, but starring a guy!” without James’ name immediately thrown into the mix. That’s what you’re getting here. A Venezuelan spy thriller about some random Joe obsessed with tactical espionage training, who finds out that being a secret agent is even harder than it looks. It’s a fish-out-of-water comedy with deadly consequences – and not a whole lot of substance.
James stars as Sam Larson, a hopeful writer whose first book – Memoirs Of An International Assassin – gets marketed as non-fiction by an ambitious publicist (played by Kelen Coleman). Book sales take off, which brings a lot of attention to Sam. He gets as far as a live Yahoo interview with Katie Couric before being outed, but there are still those who believe Sam is actually character Mason Carter, also known as “The Ghost.”
One particular individual – a Venezuelan revolutionary known as El Toro (Andy Garcia) – decides he needs The Ghost’s help, so he has Sam kidnapped and shipped overseas. He’s given a mission – kill President Miguel Cueto (Kim Coates) and help start a revolution. Sam obviously has absolutely no experience in the profession of assassinations, but there doesn’t appear to be much of an option. With the help of DEA agent Rosa Bolivar (Zulay Henao), maybe Sam won’t get himself killed in the line of duty – unless gangster Anton Masovich (Andrew Howard) intervenes.
Let me start by saying True Memoirs Of An International Assassin is comparatively better than Netflix’s previous original comedies (The Ridiculous Six/The Do-Over), which shouldn’t shock many. Kevin James has a certain skillset, adeptly bumbling around as a character who’s always outmatched and never shy about it. Sam Larson is nothing but an author who takes research very seriously, showing cowardice 9-times-out-of-10 in the field. You’ve seen Kevin James stammer and backpedal with nervous energy before, but those of you who watch James’ primetime network sitcoms for the same lovable goofiness will have no problem taking to Sam Larson’s hapless hitman.
Although, the actor does impress during a tactical siege that brings Mason Carter to life. Sam pictures himself as The Ghost, and when he writes vicious action sequences, imagines himself throwing knives and sniping headshots with ease. James – as Mason Carter – is quick with his reactions and carries the confident bravado of an action star, contrasting his meek, awkward writer reality. Mason Carter always has a catchy line when he saves the girl, while Sam Larson chases women out of elevators with creepy jokes. Plus, we get the added bonus of comical interludes during Sam’s daydreams whenever he suffers from writer’s block, where Mason essentially twiddles his thumbs mid-fight as Sam plots Mason’s next move. James’ performance and Jeff Morris’ momentarily-witty script make for some expendable laughs, giving director Jeff Wadlow more to work with than middling action set pieces.
That said, Wadlow’s line-of-fire sensibilities (Kick-Ass 2/Never Back Down) never get to fully explode, even with bloodier bullet frenzies than expected. Comedy comes first, yet James’ military superfan can’t sell each exchange that could end with his whole “Ghost” cover being blown. Other attempts at humor include Masovich’s obsession with drinking Zima while wearing banana hammocks, Rosa’s playful out-of-his-league romantic banter and El Toro’s inability to sniff out Sam’s bullshit. Real eccentric movie-quality randomness. Morris’ story squanders jokes and overcomplicates details in unnecessary manner, like how President Miguel Cueto is actually just some dude named Mike from San Diego the CIA implanted. It’s telling that a friend looked over at me and said “How is this movie still going?” as another case of backstabbing buys three more wrap-up scenes.
True Memoirs Of An International Assassin scores a few lucky shots, but ultimately overstays its welcome. That’s not Kevin James’ fault, yet frustration becomes a byproduct of slapstick silliness nowhere near Paul Feig’s satirical (and far superior) Spy. Sam Larson is like a poor man’s James Bond, guzzling beers instead of sipping martinis while accomplishing mission objects using blind luck. You’ll get your James Frey references (remember that Oprah interview?), dance floor fight sequences and a bearded Andy Garcia, so life isn’t all that bad – it’s just not very good, either.
James' bumbling writer-turned-agent overstays his welcome, wasting some decent laughs on predictability and an ending that never seems to come.