Review: American Assassin – Not terror-ible

American AssassinIn the unlikely event that you don’t have enough unsettling violence and mayhem in your daily life, or from just watching the evening body count on television, then I have good news for you… American Assassin opens in theaters this Friday.

This eighties-styled, political action-thriller is based on the series of novels written by the late author, Vince Flynn. I personally haven’t read any of these books, but they are bestsellers and have a huge following. I have read some Tom Clancy novels in my day and this film seems like something out of that same vein.

Before we dive into the minutia of this mostly “meh” movie, let me get this off my chest: I hate lazy film (or book) titles that use nationality (especially “American” nationality) as part of its name, as if the author or filmmakers are pretentiously defining a culture with their work. Who made them the nation’s ambassador? It’s embarrassing. (I’m talking to you American Dad, American Pie, American Gods, American Beauty, American Sniper, American Psycho, American Honey… ad nauseum. (Captain America, I’m giving you a pass!)

American Assassin is the origin story of an unorthodox CIA operative, Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien); a young man who sees his fiancée gunned down by a band of terrorists, just moments after he proposes to her. (Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.)

Mitch then makes it his personal mission to go after the terrorist organization that took his girl. He trains hard on his own, but is eventually taken in by a CIA director, Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), who sees the kid’s potential to be a state-sponsored killer – if only they can instill some discipline in him. (Ha! Did she forget he’s an American?)

American AssassinEnter Navy SEAL and hardened bad-ass, Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), whose job it is to hone Mitch’s raw talent and train him to follow orders. Keaton’s role is terribly stereotypical and I never bought his tough-guy preening for a moment. In this case the aging actor comes across more Beetlejuice than Batman.

Before you can say “nuked,” Mitch and Stan, together with a sexy middle-eastern undercover agent, Annika (Shiva Negar), are off to stop one of Stan’s former students, code-named “Ghost” (Taylor Kitsch), from obtaining a weapon of mass destruction.

Kitsch plays a pretty good villain, although I’d rather be watching him in a John Carter of Mars sequel; and Dylan O’Brien surprising pulls off the action-hero bit in a satisfying manner. This isn’t a bad movie; in fact it’s slightly above-average for the genre. There’s just not much here that we haven’t seen a hundred times already – except for the ending.

The climax of this film is pretty ambitious and is equal parts cool, over-the-top, and unsettling – especially in our current political climate – which makes it probably not as much fun to see as it would have otherwise been.

If heavy-handed violence and action gives you the popcorn munchies, then American Assassin is fine enough Saturday morning matinee fare – the killing and catastrophe is just not much fun to watch. Grade: 5/10

Photos Copyright © 2017 CBS Films

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.