One in the Chamber Reviews
Then the 2000s came, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. had several misfires. The dude starred in Boat Trip for crying out loud! Boat Trip! C'mon Cuba, what the heck were you thinking? For those wondering where did it all go wrong for Cuba's career, I blame Cuba going on that Boat Trip. I mean, Boat Trip was only one of the worst movies of like the last century. It makes Snow Dogs look like a masterpiece in comparison. Cuba Gooding, Jr. also played the lead character in Radio, and to paraphrase Kirk Lazarus from Tropic Thunder, Cuba went full retard, man. He should have never gone full retard. Ask Sean Penn.
Cuba's star has since faded. He has made sporadic appearances in theatrical movies, but most of them were flops. Norbit? Daddy Day Camp? Does Cuba even read these scripts before signing on to star in these movies? I guess Cuba's agent wanted to show him the money so his agent ended up steering Cuba in the direction of B-movies. Somehow, somebody put in Cuba Gooding, Jr's head that he could become the next action hero if he agrees to star in several low-budget action flicks.
But, I'm piling it on here. Cuba had made a few noble attempts at making a comeback. He had a decent small role in Ridley Scott's American Gangster. He also had a starring role in 2012's Red Tails, though Cuba spent the vast majority of his time in that movie smoking a pipe. I think he actually spent more time smoking that damn pipe than delivering lines. If ever there were an Academy Award for best pipe smoking performance on screen, it would go to Cuba Gooding, Jr. in Red Tails.
Anyway, One in the Chamber is just one in a long line of direct-to-video movies starring our man Cuba. Here, Cuba Gooding, Jr. teams up with macho action veteran Dolph Lundgren in this sordid tale of assassins caught in the middle of a brewing Russian mob war. I know what you're thinking. Yup, it's the star of Snow Dogs and Daddy Day Camp playing a cold-blooded assassin. As far as B-movies go, One in the Chamber is just mediocre. It's action packed, but not really all that exhilarating. The script is pretty insipid. It's derivative of other better known movies. One in the Chamber doesn't exactly do much to enhance Cuba's resume.
Cuba Gooding, Jr. stars as Ray Carver, an American expat living in exile in Prague. He makes a living as an assassin (otherwise known as a "fixer") and his clientele consists mostly of Eastern European crime lords. His job is to fix problems that these crime lords are having -- and he can easily fix most of their problems with the pull of the trigger of a high powered gun. Carver has been hired by the notorious Suverov crime family, led by boss Mikhail (Andrew Bicknell), to eliminate their rivals, the Tavanian crime family. The Tavanian family is headed by Vlad (Alin Panc). The two clans have held a reluctant truce for years, but that truce has been broken when the Tavanian family is accused of allegedly working with a Czech drug lord, which has resulted in the Suverov family losing business. During a sniper attack, Carver succeeds in killing most of the members of the Tavanian family. But he made one very grave mistake: he let Demyan Ivanov (Louis Mandylor) get away...
So what does Demyan do? He hires Carver away from the Suverov family and now uses Carver to assassinate members of the Suverov clan. I mean, it's a conflict of interest and all but Carver just seems to go along with it. The Suverov family are none too pleased -- and who can blame them? I wouldn't be too happy either if the guy I hired to do an assignment for me ended up working for my competitor. But the Surveovs don't get mad, they get even. They go for the big guns here. They hire the most feared and legendary assassin in all of Eastern Europe. They say the man is a myth, but he's very much real. He's Aleksey Andreev (Dolph Lundgren). Also known as The Wolf. He doesn't think, he just does. He's Frank Sinatra "on steroids" (I couldn't make this up if I wanted to), and he has a great sense of fashion as he likes to wear fedoras and Hawaiian shirts. He plays chess in the park, restores cars from the 1970s, pinball machines from the 1990s, and if you pay him the right price, will probably kill anything that breathes. Quite a Renaissance man if I may say so myself. But even he has his limits. He has made it clear that no innocent party can be involved, he won't kill any women under certain conditions (no knives, but shooting them is fine with him) and he won't kill any children period, so he does have a shred of heart. The Wolf has one important rule as an assassin: don't use all the bullets in your gun, always save one in the chamber.
Meanwhile, Carver spends his spare time following and stalking this random girl, Janice Knowles (Claudia Bassols). He simply can't approach her in person, introduce himself, and ask her out for a cup of coffee. Cause we all know that assassins are socially awkward. But there is a method to Carver's madness and there is a reason why Carver is so obsessed with this lady...
Carver's actions have ignited a potential full scale Russian mob war. And now Carver finds himself at the crosshairs of both the Suverov family and The Wolf. When these assassins cross paths, bullets will fly...
I think one of the problems with this movie is the lead actor Cuba Gooding, Jr. When one thinks of larger-than-life action heroes or dark antiheroes, Cuba Gooding, Jr. doesn't exactly fit either mold. Here, Cuba Gooding, Jr. is simply unbelievable as an assassin. Gooding's character is one of those assassins with a crisis of conscience. Beneath the cold exterior, he is torn with what he does. He's caught between the life of an assassin -- with all its attendant perks -- and a yearning to escape from that lifestyle with the mystery girl of his dreams. Carver even quotes the Bible during his voiceover narration (how original!) when he tries to be all existential. But Gooding's character is a cliché, and an uninteresting one at that.
Even if the character itself is clichéd, good acting can develop an interesting character arc. Despite being a past Oscar winner, Gooding can't seem to channel his inner hitman. He tries to go for the stoic, brooding personality. But it doesn't work here. And he can't seem to convey the right emotions either. Whereas he supposedly has been emotionally through the wringer, he ends up looking simply bored and tired instead. And I don't want to rip on Cuba as he has shown in his past works why he is a talented actor, but here, he is not able to display the inner conflict his character is supposedly struggling with. In short, I simply could not buy Cuba Gooding, Jr. as an assassin. He just wasn't a good fit for this type of role.
Dolph Lundgren fans on the other hand may actually find some things to enjoy in this movie. Lundgren has ample screen time and gets to do quite a bit. He doesn't have a glorified cameo; he gets to shine here. Lundgren gives a respectable performance and doesn't appear to be sleepwalking. Lundgren even looks like he is having some fun chewing the scenery as The Wolf. He carries a certain kind of swagger that makes bad guy pee in their pants. He delivers one-liners with a sense of confidence. He breaks bones while cracking a smile. His character has a pretty cool scene where he single-handedly beats up a bunch of bad guys with his bare fists and kicks. These people owe his client some money and he's determined to collect that money. He body slams people and with his sheer brute strength, even uses a table to knock somebody out. He then breaks several of a debtor's fingers in order to obtain information about where to get the money. Dolph Lundgren plays this role with a bit of enthusiasm. He almost salvages this entire movie. It's one of Lundgren's better performances in recent years.
The two lead actors do have some interaction. Unlike many other B-movies, One in the Chamber at least makes good on its promise that Cuba and Dolph will appear on-screen together. They don't have the best chemistry, but there is some fun to be had when you see them in front of the camera. Both actors actually share a decent amount of screen time together and they even get a chance to fight each other on a couple of occasions. When Gooding battles Dolph Lundgren, Cuba even gets to show off his fighting skills, though it's obvious that Gooding is using a stunt double whenever his character has to use some more flashy martial arts moves. There is also a cool albeit brief knife fight between the two.
One in the Chamber has a surprising amount of action and violence in this movie. There's even a decent body count. Dolph Lundgren's character takes out dozens of faceless enemies without so much as breaking a sweat. He makes it look so easy. Gooding's character is involved in plenty of action too. The beginning action sequence is quite impressive. Ray Carver takes out his targets from a distance. Stylized camerawork and editing presents the action from both Carver's vantage point and that of the bad guys as they try to find out who is thinning their numbers. This leads to a rooftop chase with Carver trying to narrowly escape the bad guys. One in the Chamber has its share of shoot-outs with plenty of rounds of ammunition being fired. This movie also has its share of brutal fistfights. Yet, the action sequences are directed in a way as to make everything appear listless. I think the problem with the action scenes is the lack of thrills. Despite Carver being outnumbered by the bad guys 10 to 1, there is hardly any doubt who's going to triumph. One never really gets the sense that Carver is in any real danger. The bad guys are very lousy shots too.
There are marginal attempts to make this a deeper character study, particularly when it tries to contrast between the two assassins. One assassin clearly hates who he has become, while the other revels in his work and hardly shows any conscience. But both seem to recognize that they are not exactly saints. The script explores this contrast in a perfunctory manner.
Another quality this movie is lacking is solid villains. The villains are weak and pathetic. Eastern European gangsters have a supposed reputation for being ruthless, but these guys are just boring. Animated cartoon villains are more threatening than these guys. The villains are just as hackneyed as their names.
The film's production values get a passing grade and this movie makes good use of its Prague locales. But it seems a lot of B-movies these days are shot in Eastern Europe, ostensibly due to significant tax breaks.
Ultimately, despite Dolph Lundgren's best efforts, One in the Chamber is another forgettable B-movie doomed to languish in obscurity. I can't really recommend this movie to anybody except for those who must see every Cuba Gooding, Jr. movie ever made. Yeah, I'm talking to you. I know you paid money to see Daddy Day Camp in theaters. I would also recommend this movie to Dolph Lundgren fans, who will get a kick out of his performance. In fairness, this movie is actually slightly better than a lot of direct-to-video movies out there. But it is still a mostly anemic feature. At best, it's a rental.
(2012) One In The Chamber
Straight-to-rental but a much improved version of bigger budgeted movies as 1991 "Assassins" starring Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Banderas, and the dreadful 1991 film starring Bruce Willis called "Last Man Standing". Here is a much sophisticated unique version of "Yojimbo" centering on two Russian mafia factions on opposite sides of each other and Cuba Gooding JR playing a professional assassin being hired to shoot and kill two specific people since they were collaborating with each other without the notification of the other. Cuba succeeds into killing one but not the other as he hides behind a scared female escort, and one of the things he doesn't do is shoot helpless women. Because Cuba botched this assassination, they then hire a new hit man nicknamed "The Wolf" played by Dolph Lundgren. Feeling unwanted, Cuba's middle man then instructs him to go after the old boss who originally employed him in the first place, and the first person he hits is the gang leader's kid brother. All hell breaks loose as the wolf is eventually going to clash with the Cuba Gooding JR character since they're both hired hit man's. The action scenes is not so great, but I love the set up as well as the handling of it just because these hit man movies often end so badly, and this is one of few ways I've never seen before which our anti- heroes can diffuse their complicated situation.
3 out of 4 stars