American Assassin follows Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) a young man who, after a tragedy, thrusts himself into the the darkest underbelly of the world as he personally tries to take out terrorist warlords. He is recruited and then trained by a grizzled CIA black ops vet, Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). They are quickly sent on a mission to retrieve stolen plutonium that is possibly being used to create a nuke.
This movie gets off the ground running. After establishing its main character, it quickly descends into the action, and it’s not pretty. There is a massacre on a beach where the realism feels unapologetic and unrelenting. While the movie never quite explains why Mitch Rapp becomes anti-terrorist Batman 18 months later, it still sets up a half-decent origin of a John Wick-type CIA agent.
Dylan O’Brien (Maze Runner, Deepwater Horizon) is meant for stardom. If he were to follow the career path of Tom Cruise, he’d be set for life. In Assassin, he plays the brooding character well. He looks like a kid that you’d easily underestimate, but he shows that he is truly something to be feared.
Michael Keaton is reliable as always, even if he’s there to swear for laughs. He continues to be a great character actor regardless of the genre. I’ve always rooted for Taylor Kitsch, who plays “Ghost,” an AWOL former agent under Keaton’s character. The potential for his character was huge, until the motive behind his malicious actions were explained. In fact, it’s when he becomes a bigger part of the movie that everything falls apart.
Ghost is a great villain, in concept, that would have been perfect in a movie opposite Nicholas Cage in the ’90s, but when realistic takes on terrorism are shown, he sticks out like a monologuing bad action movie villain.
The action (in the first 2/3), although relying on quick cuts, is fun and nearly thrilling. It relies on close quarters combat and it thankfully breaks up the constant exposition. If this were PG-13, this would be just another decent action flick in your dad’s movie shelf (most likely next to Bourne Legacy and Clear and Present Danger).
American Assassin has an identity crisis. It wants to be an intense and gritty look at espionage dealing with modern terrorists, but at the same time, can’t shake the feeling of a silly ’90s action flick. Had it stuck the landing and not turned into the ending of Face Off, this could have ventured into B territory. Sadly, it’s a forgettable movie that is worth watching once on Redbox. C+