Great fight can’t make ‘The Killer’ into thriller

Based on a long running French graphic novel by writer Alexis Nolent aka Matz (“Bullet to the Head”) and artist Luc Jacamon, “The Killer” is a violent film neo-noir from the great David Fincher (“Zodiac”), starring Michael Fassbender as the assassin without a name. Unfortunately, he is also without a heart, a soul or a personality.

The action begins in Paris. The killer is a like a monk in his cell, not praying, but waiting in extremely stoic circumstances (a breezy construction site) for his target to appear. We hear the assassin narrate the action in a monotone. He tells us that boredom is his enemy. An electric heater glows by his side. He wears black rubber gloves and quotes Popeye. He practices some form of yoga. He eats from McDonald’s, wears shades and a hat with a drawn-down band in public. In a park, a boy shoots a woman in the head with a toy gun. Is it his mother? His nanny?

Ah, the banality of gun violence. Remember when Fassbender was in everything? He’s taken a bit of a break and hasn’t had a film credit since 2019 after the dreary thing that was “Dark Phoenix.” “The Killer” is hardly a great return to form. Didn’t Fassbender already make this when it was called “Assassin’s Creed?” It wasn’t very good then either. The Paris hit does not go well. The killer, who may remind some of the much more soulful one played by Alain Delon in Jean-Pierre Melville’s classic “Le Samurai” (1967), escapes, erasing any memory of him as he goes, helmet in the Seine.

In his use of one of many false names, he uses a credit card with the moniker Felix Unger, one-half of the 1970s TV show “Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.” Our man is the odd single. The killer has a fatal attraction to the uniquely mewling music of the Morrissey-fronted, post-punk 1990s band The Smiths.

The killer is a man of few words. “Empathy is weakness,” is his mantra. He retreats to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. A local woman he cares about was savagely attacked. The attackers were looking for him, of course. Now, he seeks revenge (Isn’t this a form of empathy?). Next  he is in New Orleans, and he’s got a nail gun. As a lawyer trying to talk his way out of getting nailed, Charles Parnell is a breath of fresh air. The killer knows how long it takes three nine-gauge nails to the chest to kill and how much sleep-aids to mix with meat to knock out a pit bull. These are dark arts.

The film’s highlight is a fight scene (from the director of “Fight Club,” no less) between the killer and an actor credited as The Brute (Sala Baker, TV’s “The Mandalorian”). It must be five minutes long and really is something to see. But great action alone does not a great movie make.

Fassbender is not a compelling figure in the tradition of Clint Eastwood or Denzel Washington. He is an intelligent Everyman. The last victim, the killer was told, “resembles a Q-Tip.” Of course, that turns out to be second-billed Tilda Swinton, who is in the film for about 15 minutes and sports a white ‘do. Swinton and supporting cast member Arliss Howard command the screen. But the killer remains a nobody, and I never liked The Smiths. “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable,” indeed.

(“The Killer” contains extreme, graphic violence, profanity and brief sexuality)

“The Killer”

Rated R. At the Kendall Square and Coolidge Corner. Grade: B-

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