In the grand tradition of characters like Jack Reacher, Jason Bourne or Jack Ryan, Vince Flynn’s literary CIA bad ass Mitch Rapp makes his film debut with the solid but not great action movie American Assassin.
The late Vince Flynn, who died in 2013, was, among other things, a consultant on 24 and American Assassin definitely has the same kind of tone as 24 where terrorist threats to the US are taken to the extremes and the agents stopping them need to be equally as extreme. Dylan O’Brien, the lead of The Maze Runner series of movies, plays the aforementioned Mitch Rapp, whose girlfriend turned brief fiancee is killed during a terrorist attack on a beach in Ibiza. Mitch dedicates the next 18 months of his life to training and infiltrating the cell that carried out the attack, which draws the attention of the CIA. Just as he’s about to take out his first group of terrorists, the CIA swoops in to take out the cell and captures Mitch, who is then recruited into a special group called Orion to be trained for black ops assassination missions. Michael Keaton plays Stan Hurley, a former SEAL who runs the training and operations of Orion. It’s kind of funny that, if this was a Bourne movie, Orion would most likely be an evil program like Treadstone that Jason would need to stop but here they are the good guys and they go into missions without backup or official sanction to “take the war to the terrorists”, although besides some slightly more brutal than normal training that kind of feels like The Hunted with Tommy Lee Jones, they don’t seem to be very different from other cinematic CIA operatives.
The main mission of the movie revolves around stolen plutonium that could be used to build a nuke and there’s a rogue Orion operative, Ghost, played by Taylor Kitsch, who is running the deal to sell the nuke. The plot is really a mishmash of different threats from ISIS style cells to Russian mobsters to corrupt Iranian officials but they are all kind of generic and none of threats really gel into anything substantial and it also gets a bit convoluted at times as there’s double crosses and new players entering and exiting the deal. Taylor Kitsch also seems like he could have been a fun, hammy villain based on his introductory scene but he unfortunately just turns into a standard villain who has a cliche “you left me to die” revenge backstory (and a weird Southern accent that gets more and more pronounced as the movie goes along). Dylan O’Brien is also never really believable as a CIA bad ass assassin, especially when you have Scott effing Adkins co-starring in this movie (which was a very pleasant surprise). It’s really bizarre because since they have Adkins, he is way more believable in either the Mitch or the main villain role and it’s a waste that he’s just in a supporting role. Keaton is Keaton though and, as always, is phenomenal even with this movie’s probably not that challenging script but it is fun to see him in a violent action movie as a bad ass and he gets to really do some “you wanna get nuts” style acting toward the end. Sanaa Lathan also co-stars as Irene Kennedy, the CIA director of Orion, and they are trying to do a sort of poor man’s Amanda Waller but she really doesn’t make much of an impact either way.
As far as the action goes, it’s mostly solid but it also feels like a bit of a regression back to the Bourne style shaky, close up CQC that I was hoping we were past since the release of John Wick and it’s crystal clear, perfectly choreographed gun-fu. The movie definitely uses it’s R rating though, with some brutal kills and an almost uncomfortable amount of collateral damage in every action sequence as civilians are gunned down that even made an action junkie like myself raise an eyebrow. The final target of the nuke is pretty unexpected and cool but it also involves some pretty spotty CG that almost looks like it’s out of an Asylum movie.
Overall, American Assassin is a decent action movie but it’s nothing that needs to be seen right away. Keaton kills it as always and definitely elevates it above other, similar action movies but in terms of action it feels like a step back in a post-John Wick world. You can definitely wait until it’s available on VOD or Blu-Ray to check it out.