Review: 'American Assassin'

Action and espionage are boring and rote in new spy flick
Michael Keaton's talents are squandered in 'American Assassin.'

In Skyfall, Daniel Craig's aging James Bond missed the center of the paper target he was shooting at. Frustrated, he strode toward it, still shooting. This showed our hero's spirit as his body failed him—the sword outwearing the sheath, in Byron's phrase. In American Assassin, when Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien) leaps into the no-go zone in a live shooting range to keep blasting at the paper target he's already shredded, it's not indomitability, it's idiocy.

The assassin trainer Stan Hurley (a squandered Michael Keaton, pursing his lips until you think they're going to burst) explains the plot for those who came in late: "Some bad people are planning some bad things, and it's your job to stop them."

In this telling, Rapp becomes a martial artist and freelance hunter of terrorists after Islamomaniacs shot his fiancée: they'd only been engaged for three minutes! This prep-school dropout and Brown University grad student learned perfect Arabic and Koranic trivia as well as mixed martial arts and was just about to ice a terrorist cell leader in Tunisia when The Company picked him up. Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) is a maternal deputy director who can't get over Rapp's test scores.

"He's off the charts...he's through the roof!" she exclaims. (And, as if we need new ways to convey this: "He's a thousand times smarter than God!") Hurley is not so impressed with Rapp's impulsiveness, and tries to electroshock the vengeful punk out of him.

Some plutonium turns up missing and, ready or not, Rapp and his foreign counterpart Annika (Shiva Negar) must go from Istanbul to Rome to track down the men responsible. In charge is a mysterious mercenary called "Ghost" (Taylor Kitsch) whose secret back story will also be familiar to those who watched Skyfall.

The roster of once-proud scriptwriters on the credits shows the talent that went into updating and finessing Vince (24) Flynn's ultra-right-wing supermarket-novel hero Rapp into a movie character. Director Michael Cuesta goes through the motions, with Enrique Chediak's photography bringing out the dirty haze in the cities, as if the threatened nuclear disaster had already occurred. From the initial wanton terror attack, to the torturing of the blubbery Iranian physicist, to the big finale ("Starring the Sixth Fleet as Itself") there's not a particle of style. O'Brien is athletic, dogged and uninteresting; American Assassin is of a piece with other 2017 action flicks that are turning our multiplexes into mausoleums.

American Assassin
R; 115 Mins.
2.5 stars out of 10

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