Ashby online movie review - Good performances, but flawed execution of promising premise
"Ashby" is a passable coming-of-age dramedy-slash-bromance with a strong performance by Mickey Rourke and ambitions or pretensions to address serious dramatic questions; however, it never rises above the level of a Hallmark or Lifetime presentation.
The story has about half a dozen interwoven subplots, but doesn't explore any of them in a particularly satisfactory manner. One subplot concerns the protagonist's mother who describes herself as a sexual individual who enjoys sex, while recognizing the need to be "proactive" in her pursuit of a new husband, but whose behavior seems a bit promiscuous to her sexually repressed and socially awkward son. There are opportunities to contrast her uninhibited approach with her son's awkward missteps and an opportunity for a liaison with her enigmatic neighbor, neither of which is explored. Ed, her son and the putative protagonist, involves himself in her relationship and suddenly the dramatic question is resolved without much effort on his part or impact on his own faltering efforts to find love.
The protagonist also exacts a promise from the title character which has profound effects, but he doesn't need to confront those effects or grow from the experience or choice he made.
Several of the subplots are tied up very neatly with bright ribbons at the conclusion; however, the outcomes don't seem earned. Also, there are a lot of loose ends. A series of MRI scans is never used. A cell phone image could be part of a police investigation. A secretive agency sends a team to eliminate an individual, but leaves his home, computer and records untouched.
The movie has several elaborate props which might be interesting in their own right, but somehow seem out of place. One is a contraption for throwing footballs and an elaborate obstacle course that would seem to require about three times as much space as is available and mechanical skills to construct that the builder doesn't seem to possess. A second is a MRI scanner in the private residence of a deceased doctor which is operated by an individual with no training. It makes no sense that the widow would keep such an expensive piece of equipment and the person who operates it never actually uses any of its output, despite professing an interest to study the effects of concussions, despite a lack of medical training. The third is an extensive private armory owned by somebody who supposedly hasn't had any need for any of the knives, automatic firearms or vials of exotic drugs for over a decade.
At 20, Nat Wolff delivers a passable performance as an awkward 17-year-old; however, at 24, Emma Roberts seems too mature for a nerdy high school student. It's not that she looks old, but her mannerisms somehow seem a little too confident and mature.
Some elements seem contrived, such as the way that assassination orders are conveyed. A scene with a team of assassins dispatched to murder an American citizen in the obligatory black SUV seems lifted from some comic or graphic novel.
The premise is more promising than the production. A seasoned assassin who has had unshakable confidence in his actions develops doubts as he approaches death. Meanwhile a young man who lacks his experience, skills and confidence must make a life- or-death decision. But the movie shies away from any firm stance. It relies too much on props instead of story.
It has a few amusing moments. There's a gag when the son walks in on his mother at an awkward moment with a funny bit of business as a punch line. But other attempts seem forced, such as when several rowdy students simultaneously pelt a nerd with crumpled papers.
Production values are adequate, but seem at a television drama level. What could have been a narrow escape involving several police cars is anticlimactic. Bullet wounds are virtually bloodless. Sex scenes are fully clothed.