The Baby Assassins movies revive the dying art of action comedy

Blockbuster action comedies are in a bit of a rough spot in modern Hollywood. (Fingers crossed that The Fall Guy rights the ship!) It can seem like the only options these days are quip-filled MCU movies, where the comedy potential is limited by some inevitable impending apocalypse; quip-filled MCU derivatives; or bleak action comedies where the humor is mostly dark and cruel. But there is another way: the way of the Baby Assassins.

The Japanese action-comedy franchise has delivered two consecutive bangers: 2021’s Baby Assassins lit my brain and heart on fire, reminding me of the glory days of Jackie Chan’s Hong Kong comedies through its combination of silly young-people antics and incredible fight choreography. The sequel, Baby Assassins 2, now out on VOD, offers more of the same and delighted me just as much as the first. It is my fervent hope we will get a 3 Babies 3 Furious situation going on soon.

The movies are a brilliant combination of two genres you don’t often see mashed up: slice-of-life angsty teen comedy and action-packed assassin drama. Teenagers Chisato (Akari Takaishi) and Mahiro (Saori Izawa) would like nothing more than to perform their killer duties for the shadowy organization that trained them, then just laze around their apartment all day. They watch anime, read manga, play video games, eat tons of junk food, moan about their responsibilities, and work out in their cramped living space. You know, teenage stuff. But the demands of their job, and of modern life, keep getting in the way.

Image: Well Go USA Entertainment

Akari Takaishi and Saori Izawa hold pistols and take cover behind a pile of trashed car parts in Baby Assassins 2 Image: Well Go USA Entertainment

In the first movie, their handler tells them to get part-time jobs so they can better integrate into society, and the two girls struggle to find a means of workplace conflict resolution other than murder. In the second, they’re deep in debt after unknowingly racking up bills from the company gym (which they only attended once) and must quickly make their money back, all while fending off two up-and-coming assassins who want to kill them to take their jobs.

Those two new assassins are in some ways a mirror image of Chisato and Mahiro — two teenage boys (Joey Iwanaga and Tatsuomi Hamada) who have a similarly casual attitude toward life and their deadly work. They hold no ill will toward their targets, but are motivated by the instability of their position as contractors. The movies do a great job of infusing modern workplace anxieties into an otherwise very silly assassin comedy, all while making room for fantastic action.

That action is designed by Kensuke Sonomura, one of the best action directors and fight choreographers working today. He also happens to have a long history designing action for video games, like Devil May Cry 4, Vanquish, 2020’s Resident Evil 3, and multiple Metal Gear Solid games. His style of choreography nimbly shifts to meet the needs of each project, but it always excels in its fluidity of motion, use of environments, and legibility of action. You will never be lost watching a Kensuke Sonomura fight scene.

A fight between two people in large animal costumes, as a panda sitting on the ground kicks a leaping tiger in the stomach, in Baby Assassins 2 Image: Well Go USA Entertainment

The outlandish premise of the Baby Assassins movies allows him to have some fun, bringing in ridiculous costumes (including a maid cafe and mascot outfits) and set-pieces (like the first movie’s opening fight in a convenience store), but he never sacrifices style or legibility. The action scenes in the Baby Assassins films alternate with ease between slapstick comedy and desperate fights to the death.

A key weapon for Sonomura and director Yugo Sakamoto is Saori Izawa, one of the series’ leads, and a stunt performer who doubled Rina Sawayama in John Wick: Chapter 4. As the antisocial Mahiro, she plays off Akari Takaishi’s perkier Chisato extremely well — I could spend hours watching the two of them talking about what food they’re going to order or complaining about the endless responsibilities of adult life.

Saori Izawa slides out of the way of a bullet as a jumping man tries to shoot her in Baby Assassins 2 Image: Well Go USA Entertainment

But Izawa really shines in the movie’s fight scenes, including the climactic battle in both movies. She’s an absolute dynamo. The movies make good use of her smaller frame when compared to her opponents, as she rolls and slides around to gain an advantage over a stronger foe. Those desperate, dangerous final fights are a stark contrast to the sillier ones earlier in each movie (the convenience store fight from the first, and the foiled bank robbery/mascot fight in the second), but they don’t feel out of sync with the rest of the piece. They’re natural culminations for stories about a very dangerous line of work, and they allow one of the most exciting rising action stars in the world to show her varied set of skills.

If, like me, you’re worried that action comedies are a dying art, the Baby Assassins movies have what you’re looking for. They combine hard-hitting, satisfying action and hilarious buddy-comedy hijinks in an irresistibly fun package. I’m always in the mood for that.

Baby Assassins is available to stream on Peacock and Hi-Yah!, for free with a library card on Hoopla, and for free with ads on Tubi, Pluto TV, and Plex. Baby Assassins 2 is available for digital rental or purchase on YouTube.

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