Out of dozens of ways to make an intriguing and potential fun new franchise, American Assassin whiffed on all of them. Instead we get a film that manages to spend two hours without an intelligent or genuine moment.
In fairness, there’s no need to single out any one thing since American Assassin is such a comprehensive mess. Four screenwriters adapt Vince Flynn’s 2011 novel. Their concoction is a shoddy script that never gave the actors a chance.
It seems the attempt is to create a modern spin on the 2003 Colin Farrell S.W.A.T. vehicle with a healthy dose of Jason Bourne and every revenge thriller.
Good taste aside, the plot does offer some escapism from modern headlines. Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien, The Maze Runner) has just proposed to his girlfriend, Katrina (Charlotte Vega) when terrorists open fire. You’re supposed to feel sorry when Katrina gets gunned down, but it’s hard not to think she’s made incompetently stupid. How else to explain why she heads in the direction everyone else is fleeing and calling Mitch unless she thought her gravity defying bikini was also bulletproof?
Naturally, Mitch does the sensible thing and obsessively goes on Bruce Wayne style vengeance mode. Over the next 18 months, he becomes an expert marksman, close quarter combatant determined to take down any and every terrorist cell. I feel like in Sylvester Stallone’s hands, American Assassin could have actually been entertaining.
Instead, Mitch gets roped into an anti-terrorist CIA special forces group headed by Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan). Lathan has one of those warm, inviting on screen personas and she also struggles trying to play hard nosed characters.
Kennedy wants Mitch trained by the best and sends him to a quickie intense boot camp led by semi-active operative Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). Hurley recognizes all of Mitch’s bad tendencies — he’s seen them in his former agent turned mercenary Ghost (Taylor Kitsch, John Carter). For some vaguely explained reason, Kennedy demands Mitch join the mission to stop Ghost and prevent a nuclear bomb sale. Shiva Negar co-stars as Mitch’s presumed love interest/fellow agent Annika, but her chemistry with O’Brien is nonexistent.
Keaton overcame the awful dialogue by overacting and hamming it up. To some degree that worked as at least he makes things interesting. It says something that he gave a more subdued performance in the comic book movie Spider-Man: Homecoming. O’Brien doesn’t have the acting cred to pull that off yet and he’s left hanging trying to make something out of the terrible verbiage.
O’Brien’s baby face makes it hard to take him seriously in this role of a kick tail action hero too, but he does his best. Kitsch makes for an interesting bad guy and is all around a better character. The filmmakers do take his character’s name too literal with some ridiculous escapes.
Director Michael Cuesta tries to force some tension with close up shots and wonky perspectives. The most damning offense is the hyper, choppy editing. That might have worked back in 2002 with The Bourne Identity, but in the era of John Wick and Atomic Blonde, that doesn’t get the job done anymore.
That statement works for the film on the whole. American Assassin feels like a film that arrived to theaters about a decade too late when a shaky effort like this could benefit from an over the top spirit of patriotism.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Photo Credit: Christian Black/CBS Films