(NOTE: Written by guest reviewer Nathan Ryan)
Based off the book by Vince Flynn, American Assassin follows the story of Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien). After the murder of his fiancee by a terrorist cell, he trains himself to become an assassin in order to infiltrate the cell and kill the men who executed the attack. However, the plan is intercepted by the C.I.A., and Rapp is given the chance to become a member of an elite counter-terrorism unit, headed by Agent Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton).
If this already sounds like every action/spy/thriller plot cliché since 2002, you’d be right. Honestly, I didn’t know what to really expect going into this. I thought it was going to be a much grittier, grounded thriller, and while the movie doesn’t shy away from earning it’s 18’s cert. badge of honor, it is far too ridiculous and contrived to keep itself on planet Earth.
It’s a strange trend that I’ve noticed with a lot of modern action movies, especially action-thrillers of this nature; they want their cake and shoot it too. By trying to stay grim, grounded and serious in execution, while also having these high-octane, OTT action set-pieces that require a good level of suspending your disbelief, and in doing so just leave the movie confusing, tone-deaf and unintentionally hilarious.
Case in point, the main character is played up as your standard Maverick archetype; the guy who doesn’t play by the rule but still gets the job done. But because of how this movie tries to play both sides of the genre, he comes off less like a cocksure but reckless hero and more like the luckiest bloody agent in history! Seriously, Mitch Rapp is so bad at his job, the only reason he made it past the first 30 minutes is that the plot needed him to.
Speaking of which, as I aforementioned, you could set your watch to every cliché this movie plays on. From the agent with nothing to lose, the no-shit mentor that is trying to make up for past mistakes with his new protege, to the head of the operation who continues to overlook the international political shitstorm that her loose-cannon agent has probably caused because he “gets results”. On top of the weak script, you get a movie where one of the biggest highlights was a confused extra in the background who didn’t know what direction she was supposed to be going (see if you can spot it in the scene in Rome).
But the thing is, I would have been fine with all of this if the movie would just embrace how silly it is. Some of the set-pieces are actually pretty fun, and when it does give into to it’s more ridiculous side, it’s actually pretty entertaining, especially the last 20 minutes of the film that seriously goes all out. But because it can’t decide whether it wants to be a fun, hardcore, OTT action-thriller or a grim and grounded one, it ends up falling flat on both ends. The only saving grace is Keaton himself, who is clearly having fun chewing the scenery any chance he gets.
In the end, American Assassin is a movie that tries to be jack of both trades and masters neither. It’s too ridiculous to be taken seriously and takes itself too seriously to be enjoyed as a romp.