Released: 14th September 2017
Directed By: Michael Cuesta
Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton
Reviewed By: Van Connor
Considering how well a millennial Spider-Man turned out, you can see the potential in a similarly-aged cinematic spy hero. Alas, American Assassin squanders that ripe concept in favour of something far more generic and run of the mill, its only genuinely remarkable aspects being that it’s both surprisingly violent for a mainstream studio thriller and gives Michael Keaton an opportunity to laugh his way to the bank.
The Maze Runner star Dylan O’Brien (it’s okay, most people have to look him up) plays Mitch Rapp, all-American college student whose life is in tatters following the execution of his fiancee in a terrorist attack that leaves him hell-bent for revenge and single-mindedly devoting his life to training to hunt those responsible. No sooner does he manage that, however, than he’s recruited into the CIA’s elite Orion program, under the watchful eye of veteran handler, Hurley (Keaton) and enlisted to serve the agency in its pursuit of a rogue former agent (Taylor Kitsch, it’s okay to look him up too).
Though finally offered something of a character to play for a change, O’Brien manages only baby-steps in his portrayal of Rapp – the bulk of his screen time spent with the same blank expression he sported in his Maze Runner movies, but here sporting a sick leg lock presumably intended to appease the MMA fans in the audience. Keaton tries his best to inject some charisma into O’Brien’s scenes, but with nothing with which to work off, their chemistry can best be described as “two people” and a waste of the always entertaining veteran’s enduring appeal. Kitsch, meanwhile, makes for a fairly uninvolving villain, and the less said about Sanaa Lathan’s paint-by-number’s CIA director, the better really.
Kill the Messenger director Michael Cuesta strives to fuel the energy that runs through the veins of American Assassin, but – with such a pedestrian storyline, an unengaging lead, and a core concept that may make for a series of popular novels but feels like a depressing re-imagining of the Jack Ryan series cinematically – it’s an exercise in futility kept afloat only by the borderline terrifying enjoyment of Michael Keaton as he raises an eyebrow and bides time before he can cash his check. It has the gall to insist upon itself as some sort of would-be franchise in-the-making, but after a hundred and eleven of the least involving minutes the spy world has seen since Ecks vs Sever, you’ll mostly just want to forget about having seen it.