By Julian Lytle
Basically: A new millennial Jack Ryan in an ISIS world.
Here is a movie that feels like it should’ve come out ten years ago. We have a young American white guy (that’s important) named Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien), he’s on a beautiful vacation in Ibiza with his lovely girlfriend Katrina (Charlotte Vega). When he proposes to her, in the water, on a fantastic beach…well…at that point you know everything is going down hill for this guy, especially in a film titled American Assassin. A terrorist attack hits the beach while Mitch is at the bar, and as he races to his love she is killed right in front of him. He sees the man’s face, some brown Muslim extremist guy with a beard (see why that first note was important?). We time jump to see Mitch training himself in the magical arts of MMMA (movie mixed martial arts): knife throwing, shooting at the range while breaking all safety rules, and Arabic (using his MacBook to cheat). Later he works his way into a terrorist cell as a sympathizer, in the hopes of killing the generic brown Arabic terrorist who killed his girlfriend, but he’s foiled by the CIA in an implausible plot point meant to show Mitch’s desperation. Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) recruits Mitch because of his badassness, then sends him to Batman, er, my bad, Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a character I wish was Batman. Hurley’s job is to train Mitch to be a super-duper secret killing machine CIA warrior for the United States of America.
What proceeds after the training is something about elite members of the Iranian Government trying to get their hands on a stolen Russian nuclear weapon from a man named Ghost (Taylor Kitsch). From there Hurley’s special team, called Orion, has to go on a series of missions to find and stop Ghost and the Iranians from succeeding. Mitch, of course, constantly fails to follow orders but is successful because he just KNOWS the right thing to do.
After all the snarkiness in that description, you might be wondering if American Assassin is any good. Not really, it’s below average. It wants to hit all the right notes, adding badass scenes, but none of the payoffs are earned by the main character. Mitch is never hit with real losses (other than his beach proposal gone sideways), he breaks every rule but is completely right every time. Rarely, he’s challenged by Kitsch’s character because Ghost is an older more experienced version of him. Most of the women are no more than props or exposition characters straight out of the refrigerator. Almost all the brown characters are bad or shallow with no other motivation than stereotypical media interpretations as evil minions who end up disposable pawns for the real bad guy.
American Assassin eventually becomes some kind of bargain basement Lifetime event movie version of Jason Bourne, that has enjoyable parts scattered throughout because of Kitsch’s high-entertainment-factor and how dang gone good Michael Keaton is in every role he decides to play with. Other than that, this movie is a complete waste of the theater trip and really isn’t worth premium cable. I’d say maybe use it as a time pass once it airs on Spike, or whatever they end up calling that channel, in the future.
In The End: ‘American Assassin’ is a badly made right-wing USA vs. Everybody action spy thriller that’s not worth anyone’s money or time during this TV premiere season with so much more to watch.