There’s plenty to like about Ashby. First and foremost, its leading man Nat Wolff constantly emanates the ease and charm of a late-night TV talk-show host, meaning that you can’t help but smile at his cheeky ways… even when his character meanders into being a cretin.
This good-will is extended thanks to the fact that the film’s equally impressive ensemble includes Emma Roberts, Sarah Silverman and Zachary Knighton. But the real topper comes from the fact that Mickey Rourke saunters on screen and provides a performance in Ashby that instantly reminds you of what a unique and glorious acting talent and persona he can be. For real, it’s almost as if Mickey Rourke is moving at a different pace than the rest of the cast, buzzing at a frequency that’s constantly intriguing and heartfelt. He takes longer to say things, mumbles, walks slower, pauses for just the right amount of time. It’s an indescribable talent. He doesn’t hog the screen, though. Instead his performance is just effortless. Which makes the portrayal that much better, and you can’t help but feel dejected that Rourke doesn’t get the opportunities to display this flair on a regular basis.
That being said, Ashby doesn’t come close to getting the best out of the plethora of acting talent it possesses. But that’s not for want of trying. In fact, Ashby ultimately fails and disappoints because of the myriad of narratives that it has. Which is doubly disappointing because they each show potential, but none are able to blossom and reach their heights because they are soon cut off, which then leaves the film to dissolve into a convoluted mess of unrealized plot points.
Ashby stars Nat Wolff as Ed Wallis, a charismatic teenager who has just moved to a new high school but doesn’t want to be tied down to any social clique. He’s well-read, intelligent, but also a jock who impresses at sports, while at the same time a nerd who is afraid of being tackled too ferociously. Moving to a new house brings Ed and his mother June Wallis (Sarah Silverman) next to Mickey Rourke’s Ashby Holt; a seemingly peculiar, but nice old man who is hiding the secret that he is a retired CIA assassin. Oh yeah, he’s also dying of cancer, and is on a rampage to make amends for the time he murdered an innocent man.
Plus, Ed is falling in love with Emma Roberts’ Eloise, can’t quite see that his dad is a dick, constantly has to drive Ashby around, is struggling with his mom’s newfound sex-drive as well as with his status as the star High School football player, while Ashby also talks to a priest about his guilt. As I said there’s a lot going on.
Ashby makes a solid enough start by establishing its characters, setting and world. Wolff makes Ed immediately relatable but still quirky in his own fashion, while the high-concept plot of Mickey Rourke dealing with cancer as he returns to his ways as an assassin is kind-of clichéd but also introduced in a breezy and enjoyable fashion.
But then the other plots start getting in the way. They’re not offensively bad, but they’re just wholly unoriginal. Just the presence of these additional threads ruins the film’s rhythm, bringing it to a grinding halt in spots. In amongst this chaos, though, is the one saving grace that redeems Ashby: the camaraderie between Rourke and Wolff. Yes Wolff, whose ability to be both strong and physical while also funny and nerdy gives him an intriguing demeanor that should set him in good stead for the future. Roberts also is as adorable and cutesy with Wolff as you can probably imagine. But alongside Rourke, Wolff develops an amusing and captivating patter. After being side-tracked by its hoard of different plots, Ashby suddenly dovetails back into their relationship, and you immediately remember what was good about the film.
Unfortunately, by this point, you’re left wondering how things could have been if Ashby focused more attention on the pair. But because it didn’t Ashby is just another indie by the numbers that hinted at promise but is ultimately forgettable.