- American Assassin
- Composed by
- Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz
- Directed by
- Michael Cuesta
- Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton and Sanaa Lathan
Trauma and grief hit different people in different ways. A number of us, if our fiancée went down in a hail of bullets during a terrorist attack on a tropical shore, would spend the next 18 months in a darkened room yelling and combating nightmares. Others might learn several Middle Eastern languages, memorize the Koran, infiltrate the terrorist cell that murdered her and come so close to carrying out its chief that the CIA would have no choice but to come calling.
Meet Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien), the protagonist of American Assassin, an action thriller where plot, character and subject go down in a hail of bullets, together with many, many bad guys and some innocent bystanders, too.
Recruited into the CIA with a cool-headed lady boss (Sanaa Lathan), Mitch is educated by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a hardened operative who’s deeply suspicious of the newbie’s motives: In one funny simulation exercise he toys with his pupil by continually mimicking the terrorist leader’s mug into the VR landscape.
The details of training could be nifty — the brokers do an entertaining exercise in a simulated IKEA showroom, that’s the origin of the half-star on peak of the review — but Hurley’s purpose is that killing overseas agents must never be private; a CIA assassination is an expert job.
Mitch fumes but toughs it out. Hurley threatens to can him does not. To put it differently, there’s a large quantity of macho posturing as American Assassin supplies you with two competing philosophies which are equally unappetizing: cold-hearted, government-sanctioned expert killing or hot-blooded vigilante professional killing.
Yahoo. Away Mitch goes on a incomprehensible assignment to prevent Iran from becoming black-market nukes from a psychopath (Taylor Kitsch) who does not even have the decency to be humorous. The screenwriters — it took four of them to accommodate Vince Flynn’s book of the same name — might be able to follow the details but, as the body count climbs, viewers might have problems figuring out who’s who, let alone what’s why. An early scene with Kitsch’s embittered but otherwise nondescript villain, that conveys the unfortunately apt name of Ghost, has him concealed by stubble and tuque he’s easy to confuse with great old Mitch himself.
Automobiles race, things explode and people die, and director Michael Cuesta will help neither his audience nor his throw. O’Brien and Shiva Negar, playing another representative as a truncated and implausible love interest, provide unremarkable performances and Keaton is execrable, filled with tough-guy grimacing as Mitch’s coach and eventual boss at a performance that culminates in a laughable scene in which he gleefully withstands getting his fingernails pulled out.
And then, as the film tries to unite Hurley’s and Mitch’s points of view to a vision of professionalism with heart — that is, a permit to kill mandated by righteous justice — along comes an ending to blow them both out of the water.
Nuclear Armageddon is prevented although not before a gigantic explosion at sea which takes out many American sailors in a spectacle that must certainly be the most painfully evident case of CGI to have graced a movie screen as the 1990s. It will not worry us suckers out from the audience, but because our personalities and our film stars are all safe and sound: none of the sailors in question were created as characters until they were offed.
To put it differently, Cuesta and his team eventually decide that a life just matters if you’re personally acquainted with it; it is a Hollywood convention dating back to the westerns and a crime film but one that consequently defeats American Assassin‘s own preferred theme.
So much for right and wrong: This picture isn’t only badly implemented, it’s also stupid.