Producer: Nick Stagliano  Director: Nick Stagliano   Screenplay: James Wolf and Nick Stagliano  Cast: Anson Mount, Abbie Cornish, Eddie Marsan, Richard Brake, Diora Baird, David Morse, Chris Perfetti and Anthony Hopkins    Distributor: Lionsgate

Grade: D

Anthony Hopkins has given magnificent performances in many superb films—witness his commanding turn in “The Father,” for which he just won the Oscar.  He has also, however, chosen to appear in many lesser pictures in which he’s mostly coasted by on his voice and personality.  This would-be thriller, which he shot shortly before “The Father,” is one of them.  Despite the title, “The Virtuoso” is a sub-journeyman piece of work in all departments.

The pretentiousness of Nick Stagliano’s hit-man tale is indicated by the fact that all its characters are nameless, symbols or types rather than real human beings.  The protagonist is the titular Virtuoso (impassive Anson Mount), a perfectionist assassin who receives his commissions from The Mentor (Hopkins).

Unfortunately, his latest assignment—a rush job—goes awry, and a young mother playing in the street with her son is killed.  The Virtuoso is so haunted by this that he disappears, and The Mentor has to track him down at his father’s grave.  In a contrived scene in the cemetery, Hopkins delivers the sole high point of his performance—a long monologue about he and The Virtuoso’s dad participated in a My Lai-like massacre in Vietnam. 

Though meant to be, the speech falls far short of that.  Still, it stands head and shoulders above the dreary narration Mount delivers throughout the movie, informing us in a drab monotone of what he’s doing while he does it, and why he’s doing it.  It renders the action even more cruelly tedious than it actually is.

And what is this action but The Virtuoso’s newest, and again emergency, mission—to kill some sort of rogue agent.  Unfortunately, the target isn’t precisely identified: all our hit-man is told is where he can find the person—a remote diner—and at what time.  So The Virtuoso goes there, only to encounter a number of potential victims: The Loner (Eddie Marsan), an older man with a gun; The Deputy (David Morse), a cop who’s stopped by for coffee; and Handsome Johnnie (Richard Brake) a fellow at a table with his girlfriend (Diora Baird).  All are being served by The Waitress (Abbie Cornish), who flirts with The Virtuoso. 

The rest of the film shows the protagonist dealing with each of these.  For all the build-up he’s been given, he proves to be a singularly clumsy and inept fellow haunted by the “collateral damage” of his last mission and apparently determined to add some more—unintentionally, of course.  In the midst of the mayhem he pauses periodically to have flashbacks to the mother he’d inadvertently killed and the dog he left behind at his remote cabin, not to mention the possibility of romance. 

Without spoiling things for anyone who might still be interested, the twist ending is unlikely to come as much of a surprise.  And even if it does, it won’t cause your pulse to race.

No one in the cast fares well (with the possible exception of Chris Perfetti as The Motel Clerk, who might just have a bit of Norman Bates in him), nor do those who serve behind the camera.  Norm Dodge’s production design is bland, as is Frank Prinzi’s cinematography and the brooding score by Brooke and Will Blair.  But primary blame must go to Stagliano, who has constructed a genuinely thrill-free thriller, directed in a conspicuously flat-footed way—though James LeSage’s flaccid editing doesn’t help.

This “Virtuoso” certainly doesn’t meet the standards of a Heifetz or a Horowitz.