Back in the 80s and 90s, there were tons of movies that celebrated things like spying, American patriotism and crazy terrorist plots. They were plentiful and welcomed by all as an escapism. These days, I will be honest with you folks. These movies are not as fun anymore. Don’t worry; this won’t turn into a social justice rah-rah decrying violence in film because it’s happening in real life or anything like that but it’s something that should be considered when films are being released. Movies about these sorts of subjects especially involving global conflict and nuclear war have much more resonance now and can’t really be treated as fluffy action movies anymore.
That sets the tone for American Assassin. When Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) gets engaged to his girlfriend on the beach and then watches on as everyone is basically mowed down by a large group of terrorists including his would-be bride, he plots revenge for the next 18 months learning the language and studying the Quaran. When he is nearly killed after attempting to ‘join’ a terrorist group and the CIA saves him at the last minute, they see the potential in his skills and he is sent to a sort-of operative boot camp run by Cold War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) to train him both physically and emotionally to stop a mysterious operative known as “Ghost” (Taylor Kitsch) from starting a world war in the Middle East.
And thus begins a movie which can be best described as “been there, done that.” While it never sticks out as a particularly bad movie, it also never feels overly original or unpredictable either. It basically boils down to one of those films with the rogue emotionless teacher trying to help the student get a handle on HIS emotions while the teacher is secretly battling some of his own. Throw some action scenes in (and there are a couple of good ones) and evil Muslim terrorists and you’ve got yourself a movie. Donald Trump probably loved this flick if he got the chance to watch it in his little screening room.
It’s hard to point out a lot of what’s wrong with the movie specifically because aside from it being very tired and cliche at times, there’s nothing that stands out as especially awful so it avoids being at the bottom of the pile for this year. The opening action sequence, which is a vicious mass shooting at a tourist resort piqued my interest right away as the film seemed to be going for gusto and not holding back at all with the relentless violence. Even as it continued with O’Brien attempting to infiltrate a terrorist cell, I was still on-board. However, as soon as we got to the whole training/boot camp/control your emotions crap that usually fills these movies, I started to tune out. It’s so easy to do something halfway original with a spy story (see this year’s Atomic Blonde) but this film seemed satisfied enough to rest on its laurels for most of the runtime.
The actors certainly do their best to try and keep the movie afloat. Dylan O’Brien is a solid lead and does fairly well with some of the emotional necessities of his character. He is definitely outshined by Michael Keaton though, who seems to be having quite a lot of fun as a badass operative and his scenes are believable, almost making you think you are watching a much better movie. Taylor Kitsch as “Ghost” is in the same boat. He has some fun with his performance and chews the scenery a bit at times but at least he is doing something interesting.
Apparently this film was based on a book series and cost about $33 million to finance so the odds are good that we will probably see more of these movies. I just hope they do something more original with the next one.
RATING: ** ½
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)