I’m a sucker for a decent action film. I love the choreography of a well-produced fight sequence, or the energy of a crazy car chase. A decent action movie (the pinnacle being the first three Bourne movies or the original Die Hard) playing out on the big screen can be a glorious movie-going experience. American Assassin is not a decent action film by any means. And it probably could’ve been.
Dylan O’Brien is the central figure, Mitch Rapp, who, post terrorist tragedy, has made it his life’s mission to take down the bad guys. He is recruited by the deputy director of the CIA (Sanaa Lathan) and placed into a training program lead by a gruff grizzled vet (Michael Keaton) before jumping into a mission against a former agent (Taylor Kitsch) who has switched sides. A lot going on, but it all plays out so heavily. O’Brien is an engaging performer and expert wisecracker, so it’s inexplicable in saddling him with such a morose, dour character. There’s a brief flash of fun for him in the beginning, but that’s all we get.
At least Keaton is having fun, and really, he is the best thing about this slog of a movie. He has a knowing glint in his eye, and even the requisite clunker lines in a movie dealing with nuclear warfare get delivered with an engaging charisma. Lathan is a decent foil for both the male counterparts, but grows less believable by the choices the movie saddles her with. Kitsch is okay, but as he weaves in and out of a southern accent, it’s hard to grasp any motivation for his bad guy.
Based on a series of novels, the producers clearly have their eyes on a franchise. They should’ve taken a clue from the books, where this story is something like the eighth in the series. The first hour could’ve been handled in ten minutes and left us a lot more room for cool fight sequences, or deepening character development. As it stands, there’s hardly either. The only solid fight scene takes place on a runaway boat, and isn’t enough. A sequel could be interesting if someone like Doug Liman or Brad Bird could get their hands on this, and they let O’Brien and the film not take themselves so seriously.
My Grade – D