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Director: Jeff Wadlow

Genre: Comedy, Action

Year: 2016

I’ve been chronicling the Netflix rebirth of Adam Sandler on Crossfader for almost a year now. Combined with my personal hobby of watching Sandler’s entire filmography, I’ve become quite steeped in the canon of the Sandman. One defining trait of a Happy Madison production is that it will either star Sandler himself, or one of his close confederates, a close-knit cabal that includes Rob Schneider, David Spade, Luis Guzman, Nick Swardson, and, of course, Kevin James. When I went into TRUE MEMOIRS OF AN INTERNATIONAL ASSASSIN, a Netflix production starring one of the Sandcastle’s elite, I instantly assumed it would be yet another deplorable stint from Sandler’s deal with the streaming giant. Yet to my simultaneous disappointment and amazement, MEMOIRS is a different beast entirely.

James stars as meek and mild Sam, an eBook author whose titular novella is falsely marketed by a shady publisher as an autobiography. Consequently mistaken for an actual secret agent, Sam is kidnapped by Venezuelan guerrillas and tasked with assassinating that nation’s president (Kim Coates). Shadowed by a rebel fighter (Maurice Compte) and a DEA agent (Zulay Henao), Sam must keep up appearances while attempting to weasel out of the situation he’s found himself in.

memoirs edgy

PAUL BLART 3 takes edgy reboots to a new level…

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What is immediately noticeable upon starting MEMOIRS is how… competent it is. This is a Kevin James vehicle, and while the man is oceans away from being considered a failure, he has made a name for himself starring in a lot of shit. But MEMOIRS is closer to SPY than it is to PAUL BLART, with a script that feels like it was written by humans and action that is better than anything seen in JACK REACHER. It’s almost unnerving that Kevin James is present in something that is so willfully inoffensive while also somewhat entertaining.

“Somewhat” is the key word though. MEMOIRS is fine, but it’s not great. The plot never surprises, the jokes never shock, and as is the case with so many films these days, the best parts are all in the trailers. Supporting performances from Compte and Henao are bland, and their arcs are completely forgettable. And for all the buildup of Caracas as “the most dangerous city in the world,” most of the sets are empty, lifeless backlots. Capable camerawork and snazzy CG transitions aside, most of MEMOIRS’s milieu fades into a grey, intangible fog. The production value exists at only the minimum levels required to frame a film around Kevin James.

memoirs kev

Kevin can’t wait to get out of this one

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The question that remains, then, is why Kevin James was cast in such a safe film. Sure, James is the “family friendly” option of the Sandler revue, but this is still the same guy who signed on to be called a quadrisexual paper faggot by the Sandman himself. James has built a brand off of setting himself up for easy fat jokes and similarly sophomoric humor, so a film so devoid of any such frivolities, no matter how tame, can only be categorized as an attempt to “reinvent” James, much like MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN tried to do for Sandler. But why? Of the entire Happy Madison crew, James has enjoyed the most success, the widest popularity, and the longest-lasting relevance. He is just as powerful as an individual figure as he is a member of that dark conclave. Where Spade, Schneider, and Sandler continuously find themselves in the realm of public distaste, James has been able to coast along quite comfortably for a few decades now.

MEMOIRS’s struggle to establish a cohesive identity is a vicious cycle. What was likely once a very compelling pitch was retooled to give Hollywood celebrity Kevin James a new platform to present himself on. James, in turn, delivers a remarkably solid performance for a decidedly unremarkable role, forcing the rest of the (already gutted) film to pick up the slack. With both halves of the same project looking to the other to carry the day, you’re left with one very forgettable film.

memoirs bad

Bad Kevin!

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TRUE MEMOIRS OF AN INTERNATIONAL ASSASSIN provides one of the strangest challenges I’ve faced as a critic. Very much a construct assembled around lead man Kevin James, it’s not what I typically associate Kevin with (read: anathema to the soul). Instead, MEMOIRS delivers a Kevin James that nobody expected, nobody recognizes, and frankly, nobody wants. On one hand, you have a clever script that desperately wants to be associated with Kevin James, and on the other, you have a Kevin James that desperately wants to be associated with a clever script. Like two ships passing in the night, however, neither of these wishes are fulfilled, leaving the audience with a well-intentioned, yet nonetheless inconsequential, film.

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

Ed Dutcher is the Video Games Editor here at Crossfader. The last time Ed had a meal that wasn't microwaved, George W. Bush was president. He only learned to read so that he could play Pokemon.

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