REVIEW: ASHBY is a good news/bad news situation for Mickey Rourke fans. The good news is that after years of wasting himself in DTV dreck, Rourkes finally found himself a solid indie role easily his best since THE WRESTLER. The bad news is Rourke, with his muscular build and (presumably botoxd face) doesnt really look the part of a dying hitman, and despite his best efforts feels miscast.
Even still, writer-director Tony McNamaras ASHBY is a likable, quirky coming-of-age comedy helped along by an incredibly appealing performance by Nat Wolff. Already something of a teen heartthrob after his turns in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and PAPER TOWNS, Wolff shows some real young-John Cusack-style presence here as a smart-teen who befriends the weird guy next door and isnt put off by the fact that he admits to having killed ninety-five people.
The premise probably makes this sound like an action-comedy, but its not really that. While the titular hit-man does indeed settle a few scores, his handful of kills are underplayed. Its more about the relationship between the two, and despite being a killer Ashby tries to be a good mentor to the kid, although he instills in him a distinctly old-fashioned sense of manhood. Rourke seems to have genuine affection for Wolff and while his look for the film is really off, he does a good job with the solid material. Its just too bad the decision was made to have Rourke look like he walked off the set of THE EXPENDABLES, complete with an unconvincing hairdo and a way-too-coiffed look. His physique is also in full Stallone mode, and the occasional limp doesnt really convey that the man is dying.
ASHBY still works even with if Rourkes casting stretches believability. The movie is split about 60/40 between the relationship with Ashby and Wolffs high-school life. In a novel twist, our intellectual hero wants to be a football player and win the big game, despite Wolffs tiny build (a la RUDY?). Theres also a romance with the charmingly bespectacled Emma Roberts, whos unusually appealing here. Her quirkiness is taken a little too far when its revealed she has her own MRI machine, which seems like a too transparent way to work in a scene where she gives Rourke an examination. Even worse, the exam happens but its off-screen, meaning Rourke and Roberts never get a scene together. Why? Perhaps this is a cast of conflicting schedules, but its something that really belonged in the movie.
Otherwise, ASHBY is pretty high-end for an indie, with a solid supporting cast including a surprisingly subtle Sarah Silverman, and a great cameo by the great Michael Learner, who still has a ton of presence (why isnt he in more movies?). ASHBY isnt a perfect indie but its a very decent one and the best thing Rourkes done in years. While hes arguably miscast, he does his best and at times (such as his final scene) that old Rourke we loved from ANGEL HEART and BARFLY still shines through. If you see this one pop up on VOD give it a look.