American Assassin plays like an anthology of parts from other recent action thrillers. It has a former protegé turned villain, talk about nuclear enrichment, an unstoppable specialist with good hair, and the crotchety hard-ass elder who eventually turns mentor to the undisciplined young man under his tutelage. It adds nothing new to the formula, but the formula still works even if this is just passible enough to qualify a recommendation, but not sturdy enough to launch a franchise.
Mitch Rapp is on vacation in Ibiza, Spain when terrorists storm the resort and kill his fiancée. Rapp is nearly murdered too, but the gunshots he sustains aren’t as damaging as the mental and emotional scarring from the attack. He turns himself into a student of the Quran and hones his body into fighting shape in order to infiltrate a terrorist cell headed by the man responsible for the death of his loved one on that bloody day 18 months prior.
This act of vigilantism spurs the interest of the U.S. government, which recruits the young man into their training program. The boot-camp of sorts is like gladiator and warfare camp tailored to make the most precise killing machine possible. The outfit is headed by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), who thinks Rapp’s undisciplined instincts make him dangerous. Eventually, the two form a bond as it becomes apparent that Mitch is the most “talented” of the recruits. Meanwhile, Hurley’s once-promising student Ronnie (Taylor Kitsch) is now running around the globe attempting to start a world war.
American Assassin has been directed by Michael Cuesta, who made the criminally over-looked Kill the Messenger, he brings an auteur’s touch to the silly material that makes the almost laughable plot feel grounded in reality. Headliner Dylan O’Brien is progressing nicely as a matinée idol of the next decade, his mannerisms and hairstyle are reminiscent of a youthful Tom Cruise. Just five years ago Tyler Kitsch was being pushed as the “next big thing”, that was before the back-to-back misfires of John Carter and Battleship, here he’s the former protegé turned madman and he does his best work since the glory days of Friday Night Lights. Michael Keaton once again proves his career comeback is no fluke, this time playing against type as a hard-ass special forces retiree, who runs a camp training the next wave of elite soldiers.
The script is co-credited to Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, which probably accounts for the sleekness and grace in scenes that would ordinarily be throwaway moments in an action thriller. Bond, Bourne, and Ethan Hunt don’t have anything to sweat, but author Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp is a far more interesting character than Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz should have focused on this franchise-starter rather than the limp follow-up Jack Reacher 2.
Director: Michael Cuesta
Stars: Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Taylor Kitsch