I love Michael Keaton as much as the next guy, but he deserves way better than this…
“American Assassin” is based on the novel of the same name by Vince Flynn and stars Dylan O’Brien as a young CIA recruit who has to work with a Cold War veteran (Keaton) in order to stop the sale of a nuke in the Middle East. Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar and Taylor Kitsch also star as Michael Cuesta directs.
September is often where studios place films that aren’t bad enough for January or August but not quite good enough for May or November. And so here we have “American Assassin,” a spy [ahem] *thriller* that is kind of just there, playing, on the screen. It isn’t overly bad, it’s just boring, and despite inexplicably dedicated performances from its cast, they can’t save the film from a coma-inducing script.
I am all fine with a spy/shoot-em-up movie being bad so long as it’s not boring; the absolute biggest crime a film can commit is to be uninteresting. It is one of the reasons that no matter how awful “The Emoji Movie” was/is, I couldn’t fully hate it because at least it at least kept my interest with how fascinatingly poor it was. Here we are thrown into the plot right away, with the terror attack depicted in the trailer starting in mere minutes. Because the attack was in the trailer, we know the peaceful interactions on O’Brien’s beach date won’t last, and so that led to the film’s one moment of genuine tension, wondering when shots will ring out.
O’Brien then sets out on his path of revenge against the terrorist who killed his girlfriend, but that plotline is resolved ten minutes later and there is still an hour and a half of movie left. So they fill it with rinse-and-repeat of “who is this guy” and “where is the bomb now” scenes that don’t resonate.
To their credit, Keaton (fresh off his bad guy turn in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) and O’Brien (still a rising star thanks to his “Maze Runner” franchise) do what they can here, although neither of their characters seem to fit their own personalities. Keaton only gets one scene to let his darkly comedic flag fly and the rest is a lot of “you’re not ready for the field” and “why didn’t you follow orders?” monologues. O’Brien is a soft-spoken guy, so for him to want to turn around and become a terrorist hunter is a little hard to buy.
Taylor Kitsch, who some people don’t like but I’ve always been somewhat of a fan, is solid as the film’s bad guy, Keaton’s ex-protégée gone rogue. Like everything else in the film it is a cliché role, but he is given a chance to deliver a monologue late in the film that does add a little bit of depth to his character (who is lazily named “Ghost”).
The action is alright, but there isn’t all too much of it. With its R-rating, the film allows the actors to breathe and show hand-to-hand combat scenes in wide frame instead of close-ups, and there are a few brief moments of fun gunplay, but it never happens often enough to keep us interested in the rest of the film. Say what you will about films like “The November Man” (the thing most of you will say is “what is ‘The November Man’?”) but as mediocre as that film is, it has constantly entertaining shootouts that if nothing else make for good YouTube clips.
It is a shame “American Assassin” isn’t fun, because the world can use about as much entertainment as it can get right now. If you are the least demanding of genre enthusiasts then maybe there is enough for you here, but the film’s 111 minute runtime felt like an eternity for me and as much as I love Keaton, I was hoping he and O’Brien would just fail their mission so the film could be over and I could go home.
Critics Rating: 4/10
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