American Assassin

 

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A wannabe action franchise which, by drawing on recent terrorist events, kicks below the belt.

   
American Assassin

Dogged soldier: Dylan O'Brien

 

There’s a new action man in town. His name is Mitch Rapp and he’s the creation of the late Vince Flynn, who featured the counter-terrorism operative in 13 novels, culminating in The Last Man (2012). In his first big-screen incarnation, Mitch Rapp is played by Dylan O’Brien, who recalls a young Mark Wahlberg (with a dash of Kevin Bacon). And we’re meant to root for him, all because of the year’s most emotionally manipulative opening scene. Mitch is on holiday in Spain with his girlfriend and just minutes after a cutesy marriage proposal worthy of Nicholas Sparks, she is mowed down by jihadist terrorists on a shooting spree. And in case you’re wondering: yes, she tearfully accepted his hand in marriage.

 

The film then jumps forward 18 months to Rhode Island where we find an embittered Mitch honing his boxing and shooting skills while swatting up on the Koran. He has every reason to want to infiltrate the terrorist cell responsible for his fiancée’s death, but emotion is a dangerous tool in an assassin’s arsenal. So Mitch is taken under the wing of the CIA and, under the brutal guidance of Cold War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), he is trained as an American Assassin. Hurley is suspicious of Mitch’s motives but his superiors are in thrall of the rookie’s instincts and resolve.

 

Besides the gratuitous opening scene, the film’s first third is compelling enough, with O’Brien and Keaton trading machismo like postage stamps. But once they’re called into the field, things get a little more formulaic. There’s an Iranian plot to steal 15 kilos of plutonium to arm a bomb destined for Tel Aviv and Mitch and Hurley are forced to negotiate the usual double agents and broken-nosed thugs in and around Istanbul and Rome.

 

The film would like to think it’s edgy and topical, but under Michael Cuesta's pedestrian direction it feels like a B-movie with ideas above its station. It’s also relentlessly nasty, with a torture scene that should put off most viewers who clamoured to see the Bourne movies. As usual with these sorts of films, human lives are eminently expendable and one can’t help but feel uneasy at watching something that exploits recent real-life events for entertainment value.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, Taylor Kitsch, Shiva Negar, David Suchet, Scott Adkins, Charlotte Vega.

 

Dir Michael Cuesta, Pro Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Nick Wechsler, Screenplay Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, from the novel by Vince Flynn, Ph Enrique Chediak, Pro Des Andrew Laws, Ed Conrad Buff IV, Music Steven Price, Costumes Anna B. Sheppard.

 

CBS Films-Lionsgate.

111 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 14 September 2017. Cert. 18.