Fresh off the series finale of Teen Wolf, Dylan O’Brien continues to prove that he’s got some genuine acting chops — but even paired alongside Academy Award nominee Michael Keaton, they can’t save American Assassin from being an uncompelling and ambivalent bore.
After the pre-release studio buzz of Assassin possibly being on the level of John Wick, there was a fair amount of hope going into the screening. The film opens with Mitch Rapp (played by O’Brien) enjoying a beach vacation where he proposes to his girlfriend — only moments later, the resort is stormed by terrorists who shoot everyone who moves (including his new fiancée). Cut to 18 months later, and Rapp has taken it upon himself to single-handedly hunt down the terrorists behind the attack and get his revenge. (Now that I think about it, this very much is the premise of Wick — only with a fiancée rather than a puppy).
However, putting a spin on things, the CIA has been following Rapp’s progress at infiltrating the terrorist cells and winds up recruiting him as, well, an American Assassin. The reason they want him rather than long-trained special forces is, as CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (played by Sanaa Lathan) puts it, “The terrorists can smell basic training from a mile off.” So, in other words, since Rapp is largely self-trained, he won’t look like a regular merc-turned-CIA agent.
Keaton plays Stan Hurley, a tough-as-nails assassin trainer who is a mix of one part Batman to three parts Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. Rapp’s bravado and single-minded determination has to burrow through Hurley’s barbed wire-encrusted heart before they go out to the field on an operation to stop a mysterious agent named Ghost (played by Battleship and John Carter‘s Taylor Kitsch).
Even though the script is a recycled form of Goldeneye meets John Wick, there are far worst premises for a spy caper film. Unfortunately, the dialogue reads like no one wants to even be there.
There’s no real passion in the performances, and director Michael Cuesta seems unable to capture any real sense of drama or tension in any of the scenes after the opening beachside terrorist attack. And in that one, the successful tension might as much be because in today’s world, we can all too easily picture ourselves running from a sudden gunman opening fire.
American Assassin, while initially promising, is ultimately a disappointment.
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