In this weekend’s American Assassin a Cold War veteran trains undercover executioners. Movies like “The Mechanic” and “The Professional” have breathed similar air, but the new movie updates the tale, adding in a terrorism subplot.
Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Vince Flynn, the film stars Dylan O’Brien as Mitch Rapp, a student whose life is changed forever when his girlfriend Katrina (Charlotte Vega) is killed by terrorists while on vacation. Stricken with grief and hungry for revenge he trains himself in the art of counter terrorism to the point where he is able to go undercover and infiltrate an Islamic terrorist cell.
Turns out, however, he’s not as undercover as he thought. The CIA, have their eye on him, impressed by his MMA skills and general hatred of terrorism. To fine-tune his kill skills he is teamed with black ops expert Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). Why did they bring him on? “To kill people who need to be killed.”
Hurley teaches his student the fine art of slicing and dicing for fun and profit, prepping him for a giant mission involving a nuclear device and an ex-American Navy officer (Taylor Kitsch) turned bad and looking for revenge on his fellow service members.
The opening scene is harrowing. The full-scale attack on a beach is so tense because we’ve seen footage like this in real life in recent years. It kicks the movie off with a realistic bang. Too bad everything that follows barely rises to the level of cartoon cliché that borrows heavily from everything from “The Karate Kid” to the JBs—Jason Bourne and James Bond.
In as generic and unmemorable a role as Keaton has ever played—and that includes a bit of cannibalism—he redefines tough guys, spewing platitudes word for word from the 1984 edition of the Macho Man Handbook. O’Brien is stoic, yet reckless in the most profoundly uninteresting of ways. There’s sullen and then there’s this guy.
The action scenes have a bit a snap to them, but would have benefitted from the “John Wick” treatment; fess frenetic editing, more focus on the handiwork involved.
“American Assassin” has one too many revenge plots but not enough thrills.