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Review: American Assassin

American Assassin
09.13.2017
5 10

American Assassin movie review Dylan O'Brien Michael Keaton

PLOT: A traumatized civilian who trains himself to be a terrorist-killing machine is recruited by the CIA to help them stop a nuclear bomb threat.

REVIEW: The beats, characters and plot points of AMERICAN ASSASSIN are so familiar that you don't even have to see the movie to know how it will turn out. I'm not savvy on the book series the film is based on (by Vince Flynn), but I know I've seen a lot of movies based on Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum books - as well as a lot of action movies from the 90s - so watching AMERICAN ASSASSIN was all about checking off boxes. It isn't a terrible movie; it's competently made and has a handful of semi-entertaining sequences, but it's nothing new at all. It might scratch your itch if you're looking for a third-rate Jason Bourne or Jack Ryan-type of film to pass the time, but there isn't much to say about it other than that.

Stop me if you've heard this one. There are some "very bad people planning to do some very bad things" (the movie's words, not mine) and there's only one man who can stop them. Trouble is, he's a loose cannon, doesn't play by the rules, and that's because he's still running away from the tragic death of his fiance. He's overseen by a tough-as-nails Navy SEAL who can't stand the young kid's impulsiveness, but dammit, admires the fact he gets the job done. Along the way there's a sexy-dangerous female agent who joins the young man in his quest to stop the bad guys, a former American soldier gone rogue, a team of stuffy superiors who watch everything play out on giant screens in a high-tech control room, a nuclear bomb with a convenient ticking clock function. Etc. Etc.

We have seen all of this before. The only difference to this familiar tune is the fact that the loose cannon, Mitch Rapp, played by Dylan O'Brien, isn't officially a CIA agent. He's just a guy who has gone slightly nuts after seeing his lady murdered by terrorists, and in the 18 months since he's not only become fluent in Arabic, but he has trained himself in the ways of MMA and learns to be a crack shot with a rifle. The CIA notices his exploits when he does a better job of tracking down the terrorists than they do (this movie doesn't have much good to say about the CIA), but because he's so wild and crazy he's going to need to be put into shape by that classic badass drill sergeant type, the guy who doesn't want to deal with such an irresponsible punk but of course sees the potential and grudgingly agrees to become his handler. They'll start off at odds, but you'd better believe they've got each other's backs by the time this shitshow has blown over.

Thank god the handler is played by Michael Keaton, who naturally steals every scene he's in. In the film's most compelling sequence, Keaton is tortured by the main villain (Taylor Kitsch) in exceedingly gruesome ways, but of course he can handle anything and doesn't break. Keaton infuses this otherwise predictable scene with an air of fiery craziness that is pure Keaton, berating his tormentor with enthusiasm that can only be called Beetlejuice-esque. The movie is definitely more alive when Keaton is on screen, even if it's clear the character is just about as standard-issue as everything else.

Dylan O'Brien is sporting some greasy locks and craggy facial hair so I suppose we need to be convinced he's a tough guy, but the truth is he doesn't quite have the cocky machismo to make a role like this memorable. Funny enough, Taylor Kitsch would have been a better choice, but I guess Hollywood has stopped trying to make him a "thing" for now, so he's relegated to supporting roles. He's miscast as a psychotic mercenary, by the way. The role needs a more believably unhinged character-actor type. (Aside: In a moment that might be too meta for its own good, Kitsch screams, "Who's the new me?!" at Keaton, although he might as well be screaming at Hollywood execs, who then silently point at O'Brien.)

American Assassin movie review Dylan O'Brien Michael Keaton

Action-wise, the movie is adequate. You've got car chases and the kind of vicious, rapid-fire hand-to-hand combat that Jason Bourne is the maestro of. The movie does get off on blood; it's quite bloodier than your average action movie, taking some serious pleasure in seeing bad guys get destroyed. If not Bourne, Mitch Rapp's true predecessor mights as well be Bryan Mills from the TAKEN series. (I know that as a creation Rapp pre-dates Mills, but there's no denying this film has probably seen more TAKEN movies than read Mitch Rapp books.) Best thing you can say about the action is that it prevents the characters from talking; most of the dialogue in this movie is of the "He's testing through the roof!" and "Don't make it personal!" variety.

By all means, if AMERICAN ASSASSIN sounds like your kind of thing, it probably is. (If you're a Michael Keaton completist, then you should also go.) I've just seen the genre elevated too much by better movies to get very involved in what essentially feels like a pilot for a cable show.

Source: JoBlo.com

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