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Movie Review: 'American Assassin'

by Sean Patrick 5 years ago in review

Intense fight and action scenes can't quite overcome terrible dialogue and limited characters.

American Assassin stars Dylan O’Brien as Mitch Rapp, a normal college age kid who we meet while he is vacationing in Ibiza with his beautiful girlfriend. Just after she has accepted his marriage proposal, terrorists sweep over the beach, killing dozens of people in an all too plausible scenario that calls to mind the Paris nightclub attack. Among the dead is Mitch’s new fiancée while he is wounded in the leg and shoulder but narrowly survives.

Cut to 18 months later, a dejected Mitch is now sporting a full beard and a whole set of new muscles on his thin frame. We watch as he corresponds with Muslim terrorists via a private chat network. Mitch is getting himself recruited to become a terrorist with the goal of getting all the way to the man who organized the attack on the beach that killed his girlfriend. What Mitch doesn’t know is that the CIA, specifically deputy director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), is in on his private messages and are set to spoil his chance at vengeance.

Once Mitch is the hands of the CIA, he is turned over to a secret training organization headed up by a badass former Navy Seal and spy named Hurley (Michael Keaton). Hurley doesn’t think Mitch is emotionally stable enough for the kinds of missions he trains people for but soon enough Mitch proves to be one of only two recruits with the capability to keep up with Hurley and with a major mission coming up to stop a nuclear bomb from being built, there is no time to waste on whether or not Mitch is ready or not.

American Assassin moves at a brisk pace. Director Michael Cuesta may not have a great ear for dialogue based off the leaden, exposition-laden jargon of American Assassin, but he has a terrific eye for action. The opening assault on the beach in Ibiza is frighteningly real and graphic. Some will consider the scene exploitation but I feel it accurately reflects where the story is heading without being disrespectful to real-life tragedies. This is the kind of attack that we’ve seen before and the way Cuesta captures it is intense and jarring.

That said, I have more than a few issues with the rest of American Assassin. The characters are thinly drawn action archetypes. Michael Keaton is rightfully dominant in the movie but his old man mentor routine is more than a little over-familiar. Keaton dresses it up with muscle and crazy-eyed intensity, but it is still a rote and predictable arc, especially when you add in Taylor Kitsch’s bad guy, nicknamed Ghost. The reveal of Ghost's backstory is clumsy and renders Mitch and Hurley’s arc dull and predictable.

I also must nitpick Mitch's background. According to the timeline of the film, he is a college student when the film begins and after his girlfriend is murdered he becomes a master of Jujitsu, a crack shot on the gun range, and has found time between workouts to connect privately to the exact terrorist cell he's looking for. He's done all of this in a mere 18 months. That's more than a little tough to buy into.

Does the predictable story arc make American Assassin a bad movie? Kind of, but I can’t say it ruined the movie completely. I really loved the pace of the film and especially the fight choreography. I can honestly say that the fight choreography of American Assassin is so good I can almost recommend seeing the movie on the big screen. As it is however, with this movies’ many flaws, you’re probably better off seeing American Assassin on home video…. with the sound off… so you don’t have to listen to that awful, awful dialogue.

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About the author

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. I am a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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