When it comes to new movies, early September has always been a slow, transitional period. It’s a time when flicks that aren’t blockbusters, nor award bait, get released. Now in some cases, you’ll get a hit, such as last year’s Sully or this year’s IT. More often than not though, you’ll get films that just couldn’t be squeezed into the summer season. American Assassin is definitely one of these, based on a novel by Vince Flynn, an author of “airport thrillers” aimed at middle to older-aged readers looking to pass the time. This film adaptation, unfortunately, has just the same ambitions.
American Assassin follows Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) in the wake of a terrorist attack in which his fiancee, Katrina was killed (Charlotte Vega). Since surviving the attack, Rapp has devoted his life to finding the terrorists responsible for his betrothed’s death and eliminating them. Beyond that, he would like to go on to kill as many, “Mean, ol’ terrorists” as possible.
To achieve his goal, Rapp has decided to take a very Batman or Punisher–like approach. He has spent his time learning all he can about terrorist cells and training himself physically to the highest degree possible. He has also grown a giant beard, because all terrorist have beards, right? After setting up a meet with a terrorist-cell in the middle east in order kill their leader, Rapp pursues his first target. Alas, his plans for vengeance are cut-short as the CIA bursts in, eliminating the cell and taking Rapp back with them.
It turns out Rapp’s activities have been under observation by a CIA official named Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) who would like to recruit him for a special anti-terrorism unit known as Orion. Rapp gladly accepts but must first train under Orion chief and trainer, Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). Soon Rapp is ready for his freshman mission. The objective of which is for him & the Orion unit to track down and assassinate a former Orion operative named Ghost (Taylor Kitsch). The clock is against them as Ghost is mere days away from getting his hands on a nuclear weapon.
If that sounds like a plot you’ve seen a million times, it’s because you have. That is, except for the opening attack on the beach. The scene plays viscerally; making you feel for all of the victims of this horrid incident. Sadly, the opening of this flick is where it peaks. The only other highlight of the film being Keaton’s grumpy, old assassin performance. He seems to care just enough to entertain us. But, even then, like the film itself, he’s playing by the numbers.
After that opening scene, you quickly come to realize that all the empathy you felt for the survivor of the attack, our protagonist, Rapp, is lost. Therefore, the film just quickly goes down-hill as (except for Stan Hurley) all the characters are dull & one-note. Even worse, Rapp is the least interesting of them all. O’Brien’s performance makes his character comes off as more of a pouty, pretty boy who’s upset. I was never once convinced that he was professional killer. This issue is amplified when he’s put up against Keaton’s character who you know, without question, has eliminated many terrorists in his time. All of whom, in this narrative’s case, were most certainly Islamic extremists.
I say that because this movie seems to present the majority of its Islamic/middle eastern characters as terrorists. This was quite bothersome to me watching the film, as I felt it showed a bit of Islamophobia, which is bolstered by the film’s, “Ra-Ra, America!” tone. In the unfortunate reality of terrorism, its perpetrators come from all races and creeds. All of these issues might not be as much of a problem if American Assassin was an ultraviolent action film that didn’t take itself seriously. Instead, it’s an ultraviolent action film, that borders on exploitation, while wanting to be taken seriously by the audience.
In addition to all this, the movie is just flat-out boring. I feel the only reason I managed to stay awake, outside of the two positives mentioned, was because the film was very violent. However, graphic violence can only go so far when you don’t care about its cause. This film is so by the numbers that I wouldn’t even recommend watching it on a rainy Sunday when you can’t pull yourself off the couch. For me, American Assassin will easily go down as one of the year’s worst films. Frankly, for a vast majority of its running time, I just found myself thinking, “You know, the DCEU is so disorganized, maybe they’ll just finally make a Dark Knight Returns movie, starring Michael Keaton.” Well, here’s to dreaming; but as long as there’s not a sequel to the film to review, I’ll be happy.
American Assassin is currently playing in theaters Nationwide.