For a movie about global intelligence, American Assassin foolishly wastes an entire cast of talented actors on a mediocre story that's as pointless as it is bloody. In a world brimming with spy flicks, this one has neither the brains nor skills to survive. 2 out of 5.
After his fiancé dies in a brutal terrorist attack, an aggrieved Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien, The Maze Runner) dedicates his life to hunting down the men responsible. His vigilante activities catch the eye of Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan, Now You See Me 2), a CIA bigwig who thinks Rapp would make the perfect addition to her covert network of assassins. Soon Rapp finds himself embroiled in an international conspiracy with only the grizzled spymaster known as Stan Hurly (Michael Keaton, Spiderman: Homecoming) to help him succeed. With a new wave of violence poised to wash across Europe, Rapp will need to draw on every ounce of his training if he hopes to thwart a nuclear catastrophe.
To its credit, the movie certainly looks the part of a modern spy thriller. During Rapp’s training, viewers are treated to rustic woods and spartan buildings, as though to emphasize the primal nature of such work. This setting is soon traded out for slick, black cars and enchanting European cities which invoke all the classic espionage motifs. As for the actors, O'Brien and Keaton manage to carry the movie despite having little to work with. In all honesty though, it probably helps that a good chuck of American Assassin is dedicated to intense, well-choreographed fight scenes.
For starters, every character is a shallow, uninspired husk. O'Brien's signature charisma is wasted on Rapp, who does little more than brood and snap objections at his handlers. Keaton starts out strong as the hardened, slightly-sadistic Cold War veteran, but toward the end his antics become almost clownish. Lathan is straight-up dismal as a toothless Deputy Intelligence Director, and the main villain (played here by Taylor Kitsch) comes off as laughably inane. All of these individuals are gifted actors, but even they can't salvage such underdeveloped writing.
There are other things to consider as well; the atrocious editing, the mountain of plot holes (Where did Rapp learn all these skills before the CIA picked him up? How did he pay for everything? Why didn’t Hurly disclose his relationship with Ghost?), but really, the biggest problem with American Assassin is that it fails to distinguish itself from other spy franchises. It doesn't have the sophistication of James Bond, the intensity of Jason Bourne, the irreverence of Kingsman, or even the swagger of Atomic Blonde. Never has spy craft looked so soulless, and in this genre, reputation is everything.
The only spiritual themes in American Assassin come up when characters are being drilled on the beliefs of Islamic terrorists, but even these quickly disappear into the standard "bad guy has a nuclear bomb" storyline.
RECOMMENDED FOR: People who enjoy violent action movies, are looking for a simple film to kill time, curious spy movie enthusiasts.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Pacifists, people who are squeamish around gore, individuals who prefer more nuanced spy movies, families, small children.
American Assassin, directed by Michael Cuesta, opens in theaters September 15, 2017. It runs 111 minutes and stars Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan and Taylor Kitsch. Watch the trailer for American Assassin here.
Ryan Duncan is Entertainment Editor for Crosswalk.com.
Publication date: September 15, 2017
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