American Assassin (2017)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Fans of the Mitch Rapp character and book series will likely be excited to see their action hero finally make it to the big screen.
After languishing throughout the movie, there is a Michael Keaton scene in this movie that almost makes the entire thing worth seeing.
For fans of escapist, violent, R-rated action movies from days gone by, American Assassin checks off all the boxes of familiar content those movies implemented in spades.
The first half of American Assassin is arguably the most boring opening half to an action movie in years.
I am far from a prude, but the film seems to turn more and more violent for no real reason except to try and pop a reaction from the audience. This thing feels like two different films crashed together and the results are not pretty.
Russians. Rogue agents. The Cold War. Middle East conflict. Double crosses. A mentor training the student. Stop me if you've heard any of this: and I mean ANY of this before.
When author Vince Flynn lost his life to prostate cancer in 2013, he was the author of 11 books chronicling the adventures of undercover C.I.A. operative Mitch Rapp. Many of them performed well on the New York Times Best Sellers List and for 2010's "American Assassin" novel, Flynn wrote a prequel of sorts, an origin story that took everyone back to the beginning of the series and detailed Rapp's ascent into the upper reaches of the C.I.A.
That prequel serves as the source material for the first Rapp story to land on the big screen in American Assassin, a new action thriller from acclaimed director Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger, L.I.E.). Starring Dylan O'Brien in his first leading man role outside of The Maze Runner,he film feels rooted in the 1990s, when generic action movies, featuring potential new breakout stars paired with actors who had seen better fame and prosperity in years gone by, lined video store shelves as far as the eye could see.
To be fair, Michael Keaton is not quite slumming it up here and he is hardly a B-movie actor. More on him in a moment. Cuesta's film looks great on a big screen, but the screenplay continually staggers around, lazy and disinterested in creating something unique, fresh, and fun.
Stop me if you have heard or seen something similar to this before.
A terrorist attack on a beach in Ibiza leaves Rapp's new fiance Kristina (Charlotte Vega) dead and Rapp seething in anger. After recovering from his injuries in the attack, he has spent 18 months studying, learning, and preparing for an infiltration of the Libyan-based organization who has taken claim for the attack. Embodying a look similar to other Americans who have joined the cell, Rapp's plan seems to be going great. He's trained, he's jacked to the gills, and he's angry. And he wants revenge.
Communications with the terror cell online, his search history (okay, kinda not really...) is spotted by C.I.A. director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan). Once she captures Rapp, he undergoes a brief interrogation and she offers him a chance to take his newly learned fighting skills (he can throw knives like ninja stars, guys!) and join a covert operation to recover 15 missing kilos of plutonium in Eastern Europe. All signs point to a rogue former agent, nicknamed "Ghost", lying at the center of all the drama.
Since Rapp is not really allowed to say no, he becomes the student of Stan Hurley (Keaton), a former Navy SEAL who trains new recruits in the ways of killing bad guys the 'Merican way. Once training is complete, Rapp is sent out into the field, Hurley is his support, and we find ourselves watching two guys trying to stop a nuclear detonation and subsequent World War III.
And tonight, I'm gonna party like it's 1999.
In all seriousness, we have all the elements of a movie commonplace 20 years ago and American Assassin feels dated once we leave the carnage in Ibiza. The beach scene is violent, jarring, and effective, but what follows for the next 45 minutes or so is a fitfully boring and insipid tale of plots and storylines we have endured countless times before in other, better movies.
Dylan O'Brien is a good actor, but he takes some getting used to here - buffed up, unpolished, and ready to brawl. Once a potential new woman enters the picture, Annika (Shiva Negar), an agent tasked to help with the operation, an attraction is teased and the movie starts to give us something at least intriguing to consider.
Curiously, the longer the movie goes, the more silly Keaton's Hurley becomes. The screenplay, authored up by four writers (4!!!?), gives these characters stilted, rudimentary dialogue which numbs the senses. The movie leaps to its feet however when Hurley finds himself face-to-face with "Ghost" and a nasty torture scene brings out a gleeful, almost Nicolas Cage-like crazy we haven't seen from Keaton in a long time.
In a movie where plot developments seemingly grind American Assassin into a coarse, indistinguishable powder sifting through our hands, Keaton's wild-eye scene enlivens the proceedings, prepping us for a final act that becomes increasingly violent and tonally different than all that came before it.
Admittedly, I have not read Vince Flynn's work, but reviews of his writing reveal an author who was savaged by critics, but loved by those who bought his books. Quite frankly, American Assassin feels juvenile in its logic and stubborn in its presentation. Cuesta never offers us anything original and his film feels like a badly crafted mixtape of nuclear tension, rogue agents, white-guy bravado, government surveillance scenes, disingenuous patriotism, and the preparation for a possible sequel and/or franchise.
'Cause we all need more American Assassin movies apparently.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar, Taylor Kitsch, David Suchet, Navid Negahban, Scott Adkins, Charlotte Vega.
Director: Michael Cuesta
Written by: Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz
Adapted from the novel "American Assassin" by Vince Flynn.
Release Date: September 15, 2017