If we’ve seen it once we’ve seen it a million times before, an action thriller doused in revenge, American Assassin has that hum drum expectation of forward guessing and a lack of intelligence for its audience, a watchable piece of entertainment, Michael Cuesta has infused the explosive impact of nuclear ferocity in a hope to drown out the monotony of an implausible, dumbfounding script.
An adaptation of one of Vince Flynn’s fifteen novels centring on CIA operative Mitch Rapp, Cuesta lays the foundations of the character which clearly opens the doors to a sequel, maybe even a whole movie franchise but for a first attempt it just doesn’t quite quench the thirst for say a John Wick type all action no substance franchise that keeps the pulse racing and the brain second guessing every move. Rapp, played by Dylan O’Brien, is your typical young man, all testosterone and bravado and hell bent on ignoring protocols and orders but somehow manages to come out the other side smelling of roses with little collateral damage considering a mass nuclear explosion in the middle of the sea only seems to cause minimal mayhem.
During a holiday of a lifetime with his girlfriend, Mitch Rapp (O’Brien) and many at the resort they are staying, fall victim to a gun-wielding terrorist group as they open fire on the tourists on the beach shooting his girlfriend dead at point blank range. This is the catalyst to his one man revenge plan to take down the terrorist who took her life. With no indication of timescale, Rapp knows the story of the Koran like the back of his hand, has become fluent in the Iranian/Arabic language and has grown a beard in order to infiltrate the faction. During his time of undercover work he comes to the attention of CIA director, Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), impressed with his skills and tenacity she and her men come to his rescue in order to recruit him into a special unit headed up by cold war veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a robotic, ruthless and cold hearted leader who Rapp manages to melt into a slightly warmer human with an inkling of humanity.
After a stash of plutonium goes missing – no, the thief isn’t Back to the Future’s Doc Brown if that’s what you’re thinking – Hurley and Rapp are sent to Turkey to team up with a mysterious female Turkish operative to untangle which terrorist group, if any, is behind the theft and what exactly do they plan on doing with it, and this is where the heat is supposed to be ramped up to explosive temperatures but it never quite gets past luke warm no matter how hard it tries. There are a few impressively choreographed fight scenes, car chases which lack any thrills and an unsurprisingly narrative as it plods along, its redeeming feature is its ability to help its viewer zone out and gloss over only to be jolted back into the game, never wondering what happened for too long as you’ve instantly got the drift.
Dylan O’Brien does OK with the script he has to work with, but there is nothing there taxing enough to stretch what acting abilities he has, After all, how hard could it be to beat a few people up and then have that obligatory shot of walking out the sea in only your knee length shorts as the water runs off his body, not too typical of Daniel Craig in his early Bond career. Keaton, even though not with a whole lot to do, puts in a decent amount of gumption as the hard hearted, do whatever it takes as long as it’s by my rules Hurley but once that soft side starts to shine through the cracks the interest is lost.
Lacking in any character connection, you simply couldn’t care less what happens to these people, this American Assassin is very much like life on Instagram, all show and entertainment on the surface but once you start digging behind the facade it fails to live up to its own “public” standards.
American Assassin is out in cinemas September 15.