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Rated 3 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Passion Sidestepped
by Diana Saenger

Most moviegoers already know about Robert Duvallís passion for the tango. He became interested in the dance 15 years ago, and talked with me in an interview more than three years ago about his desire to make a movie around the art form. Assassination Tango is the result of Duvallís dream. As writer, director and actor, he takes on a full load with the film, but unfortunately his passion for the subject seems lost in a spinning plot that needs more than a few fancy steps to appease viewers.

"One of the greatest tango dancers ever, said, to be a good tango dancer you should be a thief, a pimp, a bookie and some kind of criminal," said Duvall who took the message to heart. He plays John J., a man who spends his free time on the dance floor of Brooklyn pubs or making sure his girlfriendís (Kathy Baker) daughter, Jenny (Katherine Micheaux Miller), is safe and happy. His work time takes John anywhere in the world where a professional killer is needed.

When John receives an assignment to go after an Argentine general in Buenos Aires, the lure of the big money overpowers his hesitation about leaving the country. Once in Argentina, John meets the men who want the general dead, but he is dismayed when the generalís schedule changes and delays him from his task.

As John fills his time with exploring the colorful night locale, he becomes fascinated with the tango, and especially with Manuela, a beautiful dance teacher. The art and the sexiness of the dance can draw a person into its spell, and John spends more time with Manuela and gets to know her family. But as he attempts to carry out his mission, doors close, contacts become suspicious, and soon John is boxed into a corner where even his accomplished moves may not save him.

Filmed entirely on location in Argentina, the film does have an authentic feel, and the many local extras used in the film help with this accomplishment. Playing Manuela, who is based on a real character, Luciana Pedraza (Duvallís real-life girlfriend) does a fine job in her film debut. "Iím not a professional tango dancer and Iím not an actress, so I was doing something I donít have a clue about," she said.

The plot, however, lags. On one hand John seems to be a family man at heart, on the other a vicious killer who canít be away from his girlfriend for as little as a few days before he solicits a prostitute. Because of Johnís unevenness and uncertainly about himself, itís difficult to identify with him or to care if he succeeds at any of his endeavors Ė or even endures.

And as good an actor as Academy-award winner Duvall is, his serious nature and less than vigorous style works against him in this film. He fails to create a believable character. Even the tango is shortchanged. Few dance scenes and little expertise emerge to raise the curtain of excitement.

(Released by United Artists and rated "R" for strong language and some violence.)


                                                                                                                                                                               
 
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