“Federation Protection”, a low-budget Action B-Movie, suffers more from lack of originality than anything else. It’s a good film, with a decent cast, an oftentimes clever screenplay, and better than average direction by Straight-to-Video veteran Anthony Hickox (“Hellraiser 3”). Essentially a remake of the big-budget “The Whole Nine Yards” with Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry, “Protection” suffers from d’jÃ vu but very little else. Although, considering that I found “Nine Yards” to be neither very funny nor exciting, and in general quite dull, would another crack at the same storyline be so bad?
The film stars a gruff Armand Assante (“The Mambo Kings”) as Frank Carbone, a former member of the Chicago mob who goes into the witness protection program after he survives an assassination attempt. Finding himself in small-town USA, Frank intrigues housewife Leigh (Angela Featherstone), his bored next-door neighbor. Meanwhile, Leigh’s duplicitous sister Bootsie (Dina Meyer), who is having an affair with Leigh’s husband Dennis (David Lipper), has discovered Frank’s real identity and is actively trying to sell him out to the mob.
The description above is almost entirely the premise of “The Whole Nine Yards”. Despite the lack of originality, “Protection” does prove to be the better movie, if just slightly. This may be because the screenplay by Craig Smith is a lot tighter and less prone to go off on tangents, as was the case with “Nine Yards”. Also, despite minor comedy segments involving Dina Meyers in S&M gear, most of “Protection” is played with a straight face. Although the scene where Leigh, having figured out that Dennis is cheating on her, stalks her husband with a golf club is quite inspired.
The movie’s best scenes involve Dina Meyers (“Star Trek: Nemesis”) as she and her lover plot their way through the dangerous Chicago mob. Meyers’ Bootsie is a happy-go-lucky adulterous, adventurer, and a woman who isn’t sure if she’s really into S&M. And, as it turns out, Bootsie is quite a clever and ferocious animal when cornered. On the flipside, Assante’s relationship with housewife Leigh is less successful. After one date, the two fall hopelessly in love, and Leigh is ready to go on the lam with ex-gangster Frank. Yeah, right.
An aspect of “Federal Protection” that deserved some attention is the presence of Steve Park, playing a Chinese hitman working for the Chicago mob. I was intrigued by his addition, and wanted to know how an Asian hitman was working for overtly racist Italian gangsters. Unfortunately screenwriter Craig Smith didn’t care as much as I did, so we know next to nothing about Park’s character. At just 90 minutes of running time, we don’t know much about anyone in “Protection”; then again, considering the bloated nature of “The Whole Nine Yards”, which seemed to go on for way too long, maybe “Protection” knew when to cut its losses.
Armand Assante has mastered the swaggering gangster, so Frank Carbone is a throwaway role for him. As for Dina Meyers, there’s no doubt she chose the Bootsie character over the lead played by Angela Featherstone. The rest of the cast ranges from good to insignificant, but considering that “Federal Protection” is a straight to video victim, it’s a lot better than one might expect. It certainly manages to overcome its existence as just a “Nine Yards” clone, that’s for sure.
Anthony Hickox (director) / Craig Smith (screenplay)
CAST: Armand Assante …. Frank Carbone/Howard Akers
Angela Featherstone …. Leigh Kirkendall
Dina Meyer …. Bootsie Cavander